Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Charity monies

Eleemosynary elucidation
One of the Eleemosynary charity trustees has provided this item which aims to explain where some of the village charity money comes from.
The notes on the parish council’s October meeting (the blog post on Sunday 1 November) stated “it was unanimously agreed to transfer £962.92 from general funds to Old Buckenham United Eleemosynary Charities”. Before anyone looks for significantly increased sums to more beneficiaries of the OBUEC on the back of this apparently well-timed donation from the council, it must be stressed that what was almost certainly intended was a transfer to the Former Highways Surveyor’s Land charity, of which the council is the sole trustee.
The council appears to have been pouring all receipts into one pot without adequate allocation, and its attempts to sort the many problems this has caused are to be commended, especially in relation to the money it controls as charity trustees, rather than as local authority. But it has not quite got there yet.
As the newsletter’s regular readers will know, OBUEC is a collection of bequests and allocations dating back to the sixteenth century, for the benefit of those in the parish less fortunate than the rest (those who have drawn the short straws in life, in Warren Buffet’s words). Its only connection with the parish council is that as a parochial charity it has six of its ten trustees appointed by the council. These can be, but do not have to be, councillors. They are in no way responsible to the council, only to the community. (The numbers are made up by two ex officio trustees, the Lord of the Manor and the vicar of the parish, and two co-opted trustees. The current Scheme of Management was issued by the Charity Commissioners on 1 September 1914).
The Former Highways Surveyor’s Land Charity has its origins in the responsibility parishes used to have through the Church of England vestry meetings for much of their own affairs, including provision and repair of roads. Highways Surveyors were appointed and pieces of land allocated for the provision of necessary materials. But towards the end of the nineteenth century responsibility for local government was transferred to specially created local authorities and so highways surveyors in each parish were no longer needed. Nor were their special pieces of land. The new local authorities took on responsibility for the land but were required to administer it on a trust basis, on behalf of the local communities who still owned it.
In due course Breckland Council became responsible for Old Buckenham’s former highways surveyor’s land and rented it to the OBUEC at a peppercorn rent, £2 per annum. (This went into the parish account that was then part of the rating system). OBUEC, some of whose own land was adjacent to the former highways surveyor’s land, added it to the lease with its own tenant, at a market rent, and used the income for its own beneficiaries. But in the 1980s, Breckland Council transferred the trusteeship to Old Buckenham Parish Council whose legal advisers warned that it could not lawfully continue to rent at a peppercorn because everyone in the parish should benefit from the Highways Surveyor’s land, whereas only the less fortunate could benefit from OBUEC. So OBUEC dropped out of any connection with the highways surveyor’s land and the tenants paid a market rent direct to the parish council.
As is so often the case, over time most of this has been forgotten. The parish council has not understood why it was receiving rent, neither what it was supposed to do with it. Briefings provided for the succession of parish clerks have not succeeded in establishing the information firmly in local knowledge, though possibly more recent dissemination via email to all councillors may have a better outcome, for a while. Our ancestors may have had more success through the information put up in the church (shown in the photographs) recording what the parish owned. Perhaps the archives evening next year will encourage more interest in the village’s heritage and how we can best protect and use it.

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