A MUCH-LOVED, award-wining Christian charity which supported over 9,000 people in Caerphilly during the Covid lockdown could be evicted by the Church in Wales (CinW).
The Parish Trust was founded in 2019 by the Revd Dean Aaron Roberts, Rector of the Parish of Bedwas, and a Board of Trustees which was made up of representatives of the local parishes as a response to local community need. The charity was based in St Thomas Church in Trethomas, one of six churches he was responsible for.
St Thomas Church was commandeered during the pandemic, with the full knowledge and blessing of the CinW and local Bishop, as it was a modern building with good accessibility. The Parish of Bedwas, which had two church buildings, were 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 (PCC) 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 was led to believe the CinW 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 their success that the First Minister of Wales, 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, over three years the CinW has ignored emails, used delaying tactics, then employed the brother of the Archbishop of Wales, a solicitor, and others, to try to get the trustees to sign up to a variety of Tenancy Agreements. From a position of free rental since 2020, one was for a £12,000 per annum rent, but no activity of a ‘religious’ nature – which would breach the Trust’s core values, and their obligations to the Charity Commission, and Charity law.
More recently, church lawyers tried to get The Parish Trust to sign up to a ‘Tenancy at Will’, a very unsecure tenancy which could be terminated at any time.
As things stand, The Parish Trust has no formal tenancy agreement with the CinW whilst it tries to find a new, larger property, reluctantly cutting its ties with the CinW. 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 foodbank feeding up to 60 families per week
- a weekly Youth Club for over 40 young people, and a weekly Games Club for 40 children/young people
- Tommy’s Tots (Toddler Group) closed to 100 families
- Bag a Bargain – food distributed to community that serves the poorest and good for the environment (1,200 bags of food given out Sept-Dec 2021 alone!)
- 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/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 Parish Trust had to instruct a solicitor to defend the charity against increasingly aggressive solicitors’ letters, setting out the facts, and demanded face to face dialogue with the bishop, direct. They pleaded to be able to settle the matter in a Christian manner – rather than wasting charity income on increasing legal fees.
On August 7, Diane Brierley, Chair of the Trust wrote to the bishop’s solicitors asking that the CinW stop its legal threats. She said the Trust acknowledged that the CinW was now at a point where it wished to do something different with St Thomas, and that given developments, The Parish Trust recognised the need to secure alternative accommodation to meet expanding work.
Mrs Brierley said: “We stressed that we hoped we would be able to establish an amicable period of grace with the CinW, 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.
“We stressed The Parish Trust wished to create a direct line of communication that doesn’t necessitate solicitors, and the time and costs this results in which directly impact on the work that we are able to do. We remain committed to working with the CinW to find a solution that reflects the Christian values which we both hold, and which will demonstrate this partnership for the gospel in the communities.”
Whilst an email from the bishop suggested that the diocese would set up a meeting, no date or terms have been given to the Trust. Regrettably, given the history of relations over the past year since Mr Roberts resigned as Rector to dedicate more time to The Parish Trust, they are not hopeful of a mutually agreeable settlement, via lawyers.
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, whilst seeking a larger, long-term home.
For details of the Trust, visit www.theparishtrust.org.uk
For further information/interview:
Revd Dean Aaron Roberts (CEO of The Parish Trust)
Revd Paul Eddy (PR)
A separate charity was set up to cover community action, separate from the Parish Funds (PCC) as The Parish Trust Trustees – all local worshippers in the parish- believed it would increase fundraising potential. The parish finances were struggling, and The Parish Trust trustees did not wish to risk assets/income of the charity being used to prop up the parish finances. The Parish Trust was already paying the ongoing maintenance costs of St Thomas, thereby freeing up parish funds for other purposes.
A Summary PDF of all the Trust’s activities and achievements since 2020 is available from firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as a PDF Timeline of all the Legal hurdles the CinW has put up against the Trust in the past three years. Copies of all correspondence can be made available to the media.
The Parish Trust is a registered charity, No 1186996. Its Governing Document, including its ‘Objects clause’ can be found at Governing document, The Parish Trust – 1186996, Register of Charities – The Charity Commission
The Annual Accounts of the charity can be found at Accounts and annual returns, The Parish Trust – 1186996, Register of Charities – The Charity Commission
The Parish Trust charity currently benefits the historic geographical parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry – which mirrors the Benefice footprint as well as the wider Caerphilly area.
JPEG pictures of the charity’s work are available from email@example.com
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