The Charity Commission, the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales, has today published a report of its monitoring action and review of the activities of The Preston Down Trust, (registered charity no. 1155382), a charity that is part of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church and was registered in January 2014. The Preston Down Trust report is the first monitoring report into a newly registered Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.
The report concludes that the commission did not identify any evidence of significant issues relating to the charity’s compliance with the governing document and promises made. It found the trustees were taking steps to ensure it was a well-run charity although there were some points for the trustees to address 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 can do to publicise all the meetings that are accessible to non-members to show there is genuine openness of worship to the public.
The trustees were reminded that it is essential that activities to demonstrate public benefit continue on a regular basis, can be evidenced and are reported on by the trustees in their annual report.
The commission did identify some governance and financial issues, provided regulatory advice and guidance on them and set an action plan. This includes ensuring that they have a number of core policies and procedures in place that are necessary for the proper governance and administration of a charity.
The trustees fully cooperated with the review and have accepted and already started to make progress on the action plan.
The commission registered the Preston Down Trust on the basis that it adopted a new Deed of Variation with a statement of its doctrines and practices and a framework for the administration of the charity in a way which ensured it was charitable and was binding on the trustees. The commission made a commitment to review The Preston Down Trust’s compliance with this deed 12 months after its registration as a charity in 2014.
Michelle Russell, Director of Investigations, Monitoring and Enforcement at the commission said:
Part of our role as Registrar includes protecting the integrity of charitable status through our registration gateway to ensure only charitable bodies are registered. It is vital that from day one, trustees of charities recognise the importance of complying with charity law and start on the right footing. Trustees must ensure that their charity operates for the public benefit not just at registration stage but going forward, and ensure they follow charity law at all times.
Given the public interest in the registration of this charity, it was important that the commission took this monitoring action and in doing so provided public assurance that the charity is complying with the assurances it gave at registration, and ensures compliance on the issues that the trustees need to address.
Our monitoring programme of Plymouth Brethren churches that have been recently registered following promises made about compliance continues.
The results of the review of Preston Down Trust include that:
the charity has taken some steps to ensure that adherents of the religion are aware of the new Deed of Variation, however the commission has recommended that the charity take further steps and publicise this more widely
meetings are in principle open - details of the Sunday evening meeting are displayed on the signage outside the gospel hall - but the trustees could do more to advertise and make non-members aware of these meetings, beyond the signage; the commission has recommended that the trustees consider what else they can do to publicise all the meetings that are accessible to non-members to show there is genuine openness of worship to the public
there is evidence that the charity does undertake activities to engage with the general public, including litter clearing and repairing coastal defences and work within the local hospital and prison
as part of the monitoring action and review the commission proactively contacted individuals who had previously raised concerns about the Plymouth Brethren - they had no complaints to raise about the Preston Down Trust specifically
the commission found that Preston Down Trust lacked a number of core policies and procedures which are usual and necessary for the proper and governance and administration of the charity - the charity is working to implement these
Wider work monitoring Brethren gospel halls
Ninety-six individual Brethren gospel halls have registered. Monitoring of other Plymouth Brethren Christian Churches is now taking place and more reports of this monitoring will follow. The commission 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.
Notes to editors
The Preston Down Trust was the first of a number of Plymouth Brethren Christian Churches to recently register as charities following a decision in January 2014. This is the first monitoring report into a newly registered Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.
The Charity Commission is the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales. To find out more about our work, see our annual report.
- To search for charities on our online register go to GOV.UK.
- Read more information on how the commission reports on its regulatory work.