Christian charity ‘facing eviction by Church in Wales’
An award-winning Christian charity that supported more than 9,000 people during the Covid lockdown says it could be evicted by the Church in Wales.
The Parish Trust was founded in 2019 by Rev Dean Roberts, Rector of the parish of Bedwas, near Caerphilly, with a Board of Trustees made up of representatives of local parishes. The charity was based in St Thomas Church in Trethomas, one of six churches he was responsible for.
St Thomas Church – a modern building with good accessibility – was commandeered during the pandemic, with the full knowledge and blessing of the Church in Wales and the local Bishop. The parish of Bedwas, which had two church buildings, was not in a financial position to look after both. Attendance at St Thomas had declined, as had finance. Since 2020, the Parish Trust has invested over £50,000 into the church, including a new boiler, a new kitchen and environmentally friendly lighting.
The Parochial Church Council had even petitioned the bishop to legally decree the church redundant and closed for worship’ – such was the problems it caused them financially. Bishop Cherry Vann made such a decree on August 9, 2022, only to change her mind one month later, legally rescinding the decree.
For three years, the Trust’s board says it was led to believe that the Church in Wales would sell the building to them. A diocesan official arranged a survey and valuation, and the Trust was asked to remove church fittings. Hopeful and positive trustee meetings focused on the upcoming fundraising to secure the building for the future of the charity, and its growth serving local people.
Since 2020, the Parish Trust has become central to community life in Caerphilly and relied upon by many disadvantaged and vulnerable residents. Such has been its success that First Minister Mark Drakeford, made a personal visit in August 2020. The Lord Lieutenant of Gwent passed on a personal message of thanks from the late Queen, and invited Mr Roberts to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party for charity leaders. The Trust was given a Community Council Award, and the Investing In Volunteers Award for its Apprenticeship and Volunteer Programmes – which saw 24,246 volunteer hours given between January and March this year alone.
Despite the charity’s success in achieving its objectives, says the Trust, the Church in Wales has obstructed efforts to get a secure tenancy agreement for the bui;lding in place. Recently, church lawyers tried to get the Trust to sign up to a “tenancy at will”, a very insecure tenancy which could be terminated at any time.
As things stand, the Parish Trust has no formal tenancy agreement with the Church in Wales while it tries to find a new, larger property, If the charity is evicted from St Thomas Church without somewhere to move to, the following charitable activities in the community could stop immediately:
* A large food bank feeding up to 60 families per week;
* A weekly youth club for over 40 young people, and a weekly games club for 40 children and young people;
* Tommy’s Tots toddler group serving 100 families;
* Bag a Bargain – food distributed in communities that serves the poorest and good for the environment (1,200 bags of food given out Sept-Dec 2021 alone);
* A summer event helping 650 children this year, and autumn crafts days for 70 local children;
* Winter community events to prevent loneliness and isolation;
* The community choir, leading to more isolation and loneliness;
* The possible redundancy of many of the 11 staff, and the closure of the Profectus Programme, encouraging local charity apprenticeships leading to jobs
Mr Roberts said: “From the beginning, the Parish Trust has always been in favour of working with churches to help them make a difference in their communities, and the Church in Wales is no exception. Because of my link with the Church in Wales, we naively thought that it would be only too glad to tangibly support the charity, given its recent focus on helping the vulnerable in the community. Thus far, the Church in Wales has only benefitted from positive national and local media coverage, as well as the local grassroots understanding that ‘the Church is helping people’. For a long time, we had every hope that the Church in Wales would see this opportunity for what it was and sell us the building.
“That was one of our operational priorities until January of this year when I resigned my post in the Church in Wales as the Charity Commission ratified a decision by the Board of Trustees to appoint me as the charity’s first CEO. Since then, the Church in Wales has demonstrated a difficult attitude towards us, and even hostility, which is a real shame as we had hoped better for both parties.”
Reluctantly, the Trust says it has had to instruct a solicitor to defend the charity against increasingly aggressive solicitors’ letters, setting out the facts, and demanding face to face dialogue with the bishop. On August 7 Diane Brierley, chair of the Trust wrote to the bishop’s solicitors asking that the Church in Wales stop its legal threats. She said: “We stressed that we hoped we would be able to establish an amicable period of grace with the Church in Wales, and for them to grant us more time, without restrictions or costs, as has existed to date. We said that given the circumstances forced upon us, the trustees hoped to have alternative accommodation in place within six months.
“The Parish Trust awaits a response from Bishop Cherry Vann so that the charity’s work in Caerphilly, and wider, can proceed on a secure footing, while seeking a larger, long-term home.”
A spokesperson for the Church in Wales said: “We are committed to finding a way forward that is agreeable to both the Parish Trust and the Church in Wales.
“The Bishop of Monmouth, Cherry Vann, wrote to the trustees of the Parish Trust on September 14 2023 proposing further meetings in the hope of finalising an agreement for the use of St Thomas’ Church by the Trust while it looks for new premises.
“We acknowledge that the Parish Trust does tremendous work to support people in the area it serves and we hope that will continue for many years.
“Our sincere desire is to find an amicable agreement that suits all parties.”
Church in Wales sources suggested that Mr Roberts may be intending to join the Anglican Convocation in Europe, a breakaway church network that opposes the ordination of women as priests and the blessing of same sex partnerships, both of which are now the official policy of the Church in Wales. A spokesman for Mr Roberts flatly denied the suggestion.
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