Readers may recall that in January 2014 the Charity Commission for England and Wales agreed to accept an application for registration from the Preston Down Trust of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church. The Commission has now published a report on its monitoring of the activities of the Trust, (registered charity no. 1155382): the publication is the first monitoring report into a newly-registered Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.
The Commission did not identify any evidence of significant issues relating to the Trust’s compliance with its governing document and the promises made to the Commission as a condition of registration. The Commission found that the trustees were taking steps to ensure that the charity was well run, though there were some points for the trustees to address in order to improve openness and transparency, including taking further steps to publish to its members the requirements of its doctrines and practices and considering what else they could do to publicise all the meetings that are accessible to non-members, so as to show that there is genuine openness of worship to the public. The trustees were reminded that it was essential that they should continue to demonstrate public benefit on a regular basis, provide evidence that they were doing so and report on the matter in the Trustees’ Annual Report.
The Commission identified governance and financial issues on which it provided regulatory advice and guidance and set an action plan to ensure that the trustees have the core policies and procedures in place that are necessary for the proper governance and administration of a charity. The trustees cooperated fully with the review and have already started to make progress on the action plan.
The Commission registered the Preston Down Trust on the basis that it would adopt a Deed of Variation, binding on the trustees, with a statement of its doctrines and practices and a framework for the administration of the Trust in a way that would ensure that it was charitable. The Commission made a commitment to review the Trust’s compliance with the Deed of Variation 12 months after its registration as a charity in 2014.
The results of the review of the Preston Down Trust include the following:
- the charity has taken some steps to ensure that adherents of the religion are aware of the new Deed of Variation dated 10 January 2014, however the Commission has recommended that the charity take further steps and publicise this more widely;
- meetings are in principle open – details of Sunday evening meeting are displayed outside the gospel hall – but the Commission believes that the trustees could do more to advertise and make non-members aware of these meetings, beyond signage, and has recommended that the trustees consider what else they can do to publicise all the meetings that are accessible to non-members so as to show that there is genuine openness of worship to the public; and
- there is evidence that the charity undertakes activities to engage with the general public, including clearing litter, repairing coastal defences, work within the local hospital and prison: it also applies funds for the benefit of the wider community, such as helping homeless persons and a donation towards an air ambulance.
As part of its monitoring and review the Commission considered issue of detriment and harm: in particular, the charity’s dealings with former members. The Commission contacted individuals who had previously raised concerns about the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church; but they had no complaints to raise about the Preston Down Trust specifically.
96 individual gospel halls of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church have now registered with the Commission. Monitoring of other Plymouth Brethren Christian Churches is in progress and more reports will follow. The Commission’s press release confirmed that it
“will assess and consider complaints made against any brethren gospel halls following their registration and will report publicly on its conclusions where it is in the public interest to do so.”