A little over a century ago brethren in the West Country and South Wales began to be exercised about the responsibilities of trusteeship of Gospel Halls. The legal ownership of many of these properties was vested in the names of local trustees, some within the fellowship and others connected to it. Some considered it advisable to form a trust whose members possessed skills and knowledge which suited them to trusteeship of properties used for the Lord’s work.
The Western Counties and South Wales Evangelisation Trust was established in 1904 for this very purpose and remains today a wellestablished charity, recognized by the Charity Commission as an ‘open brethren’ property-holding trust. Whilst the designation ‘open brethren’ has never formed part of its title, it is accepted that charitable property must be distinguished in a proper manner. ‘A place of worship’ which cannot be recognized and identified can readily fall into the hands of those whose teaching is far removed from the intentions of those who first provided the finance to build it and commence a work for God therefrom.
It has never been the practice of the Trust to seek or attract trusteeship of properties but, on request, it has over time accepted about 140 halls and chapels at the request of local trustees. A principal reason for vesting properties in such a trust is to ensure a continuity of responsible brethren as trustees to ‘protect’ future use of the property.
There are at any time between twelve and fifteen trustees, all of whom are in fellowship with an ‘open brethren’ assembly. They comprise believers who are known and respected and who have professional experience in a number of disciplines such as law, accountancy, engineering, town planning and valuation as well as experience to provide advice and guidance on such matters when required. The trust is distinguished from other similar trusts in that it makes no charge for its services.
The spiritual independence of a local church is a foundation principle of the trust, for which reason the trustees do not influence fellowships regarding spiritual matters and would not do so unless a breach of doctrines set out in its trust deed were to occur. The trust considers the wishes of church leaders/members to be paramount and when matters affecting land and property arise endeavours to follow those wishes, insofar as it is legal and proper to do so.
The trust does not seek financial donations from any source. Any financial resources it holds are realized from disposals of land and buildings. These funds are then allocated for the purchase or improvement of land or buildings for identical purposes, strictly in accordance with legislation affecting charities. Priority is given when allocating such funds to the needs of fellowships within the trust. Should a fellowship become weak and lack resources the trust can assist, and whenever possible does so in genuine and deserving cases.
The responsibilities ot the trustees is no different from those of local trustees of any particular ‘place of worship’. The trustees expect the local assembly to look after its property and to maintain it appropriately.
Properties at present held within the Western Counties Trust extend from East Sussex to Cornwall, and from London to Birmingham and Swansea. The trustees too live in various parts of southern England and South Wales to better enable contact when needs or emergencies arise, as they sometimes do. The nearby trustee can then request guidance from a solicitor or other professional.
The work of the trustees is wideranging and is very often demanding but it is fulfilling and rewarding when problems associated with property ownership and use are addressed and resolved, thus providing a valuable resource to the Lord’s people.
Contact and e-mail address is: [email protected]
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