St John’s Parish Hall – update February 2024

St John’s Parish Hall – update February 2024


The site on which St John’s Parish Hall in Meads Village stands has been in the ownership of the church since 1850. The site was originally gifted to the church by the Earl of Burlington under the School Sites Act for building a church school for the village. The school was subsequently moved to a different site and a new Indenture in 1912 reaffirmed the granting of the site to the Vicar of St John’s Parish and other local trustees for use as a Sunday School, for other religious instruction, for meetings connected with the Parish or the work of the Vicar and for any clerical, religious, charitable or benevolent purpose connected with the Parish. The additional stipulation was that no use of the site should be contrary to the principles of the Church of England and it should be in furtherance of the designs of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor. The sole management and control of the site was vested in the Incumbent Vicar and this person was given the power to appoint future Trustees. This 1912 agreement has a number of covenants regarding both use of the site and also what could be built on it and these covenants still exist.


The First World War intervened and so a new Parish Hall was not built until 1926, following fundraising by people in the Parish. Since that time the Vicar, Churchwardens and other members of St John’s church have cared for and managed the Parish Hall. After St John’s was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War, the church moved into the Parish Hall for a period of about 15 years. Over the years, church use of the Hall has gradually reduced and it has been used increasingly for a variety of community purposes. The responsibility for maintaining and running the Hall has however remained with St John’s to this day.


In 2003 legal ownership of the Hall was vested in the Chichester Diocesan Board of Finance under the Incumbents and Church Wardens (Trusts) Measure 1964. This act was passed subsequent to the Charities Act 1960 to prevent the misadministration of trusts established in church buildings for charitable purposes and thus parish halls across the country were subject to this order. The legislation provided for the local Incumbent Vicar and Churchwardens or Parochial Church Councils to continue with their management responsibilities, with the Diocese being a Custodian Trustee. The Land Registry title shows the Chichester Diocesan Board of Finance as the proprietor under title number ESX267727, dated 13th May 2003. The Vesting Declaration of 6th May 2003 names the Vicar and Churchwardens of St John’s as Managing Trustees.  


For a number of years St John’s has been subsidising the day to day running of the Parish Hall, as well as incurring capital costs for repairs to the building. This has become increasingly onerous as the Hall has aged and so in November 2022 St John’s called a public meeting with the local community to discuss the future of the Hall.  It was made clear at this meeting that the status quo of the Hall remaining St John’s financial responsibility in this way was not an option and two potential solutions were presented – to transfer the running and maintenance of the Hall to a new community charity, or to consider a sale of the Hall. There was a clear wish expressed in the meeting and in subsequent forums to find a solution to allow the Hall to continue operating as a general community centre.  


Almost immediately following this meeting St John’s began discussions with the Meads Community Association (MCA) with the aim of enabling a community solution to be found. The proposal  was for a new community charity to be established, separate from the MCA, and for a long lease to be granted to this charity at a peppercorn rent, in return for the new charity taking on the responsibility to maintain the building and run day to day activity. A small project team was set up under the auspices of the MCA and an extended period of due diligence and business planning by this team began, which was completed at the end of October 2023. At the same time steps were being taken to create a new Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) and to find Trustees for this CIO.


Given the restrictions of the 1912 agreement, St John’s approached the Charity Commission about writing an ‘Albemarle Scheme’ to allow a change of use, so that a lease could be granted. This is a tried and tested mechanism used by church halls up and down the country and is explained in Charity Commission guidance CC18 – Use of church halls for village hall and other charitable purposes. St John’s also approached the Compton Estate about their willingness to release the covenants contained in the 1912 agreement and they indicated they would be happy to do this once a lease was in place. The Charity Commission provided St John’s with a draft Albemarle Scheme in November 2023.


The current position

At the end of 2023 St John’s was informed that four Trustees had been appointed to the new CIO, to be named the Meads (Eastbourne) Community Centre (MECC) and that the process of registration with the Charity Commission was in hand. This was completed in January 2024. The MECC was also preparing a bid to the Community Ownership Fund, administered by the Department for Levelling Up and Communities, for a substantial funding package to repair and refurbish the Hall, which needs to be supported by an element of matched funding by the local community. This application was submitted at the end of January and it is anticipated that the outcome will be known by the end of March. The understanding is that, if successful, the funds would need to be spent within a 12-month period.


St John’s have appointed lawyers to scrutinise the Albemarle Scheme and to draft a lease and these are both in hand. The aim is to have an agreement in place by Easter. This will need to be approved by the Charity Commission and signed off by the Diocese of Chichester as Custodian Trustee, St John’s Vicar and Churchwardens as Managing Trustees and the MECC Trustees.


The MECC Trustees have taken over negotiations with St John’s since January 2024 and two face to face meetings have been held. They have asked St John’s to consider gifting the Hall to the MECC rather than having a long lease and have suggested that local funders may be reluctant to commit funds on the basis of a lease. It is not believed to be possible legally to do this and any renegotiation would have the effect of slowing down a transfer of the Hall, when there is now an urgency to conclude things if the Community Ownership Fund bid (which permits funding for leased properties) is successful.


Why would it not be possible to gift the Hall to the MECC?

When the Parish Hall was gifted to St John’s in 1912, a charitable trust was created to operate the Hall in accordance with the 1912 agreement. Although in practical terms the use of the Hall has widened considerably over the last 100 years, this trust still exists and cannot just be overridden. The Charity Commission guidance contained in the document CC18 – Use of church halls for village halls and other charitable purposes – sets out clearly how churches should go about disposing of property that is no longer needed exclusively for church purposes. One way is to request the Charity Commission to write a scheme to allow  a change of use and to agree a lease with a new entity. Another way, if the church has no further use at all for the property and therefore the trusts can be said to have failed, is to consider selling the Hall on the open market.


St John’s does have a small ongoing use of the Hall for its outreach work and the Parish Hall site is what is known as ‘designated land’, which would make any sale of the Hall complicated and require Charity Commission approval. The Hall Trustees, which are the Vicar and Churchwardens, would have to ensure that any decision to sell is in the best interests of the Parish Hall charity.


While a sale may be possible, it would be complicated and take time. Although it is theoretically possible to sell to another charity for less than the full market value, St John’s would need to ensure that the Hall Trustees are complying with the statutory requirements of the Charity Act. The objects of the new CIO are very different from the objects of the charitable trust created by the 1912 agreement, further complicating any sale/transfer of the freehold. The site is also a significant church asset, which has been supported financially and maintained by the church for over 100 years.


For all these reasons and given the need to now proceed quickly, granting a long lease to the MECC is currently the only viable option. St John’s would be willing in the future to consider options for selling the Hall to the MECC as a community facility rather than at full development value, given time on both sides to properly explore this.  




Why can’t you ask the Compton Estate to just write a new agreement?

It is not possible to just override the current agreement for all the reasons already mentioned. The site and the charitable trust created by the 1912 agreement are subject to charitable law. The church has already approached the Charity Commission about writing an Albemarle Scheme to allow a lease and the Commission has given us a draft Scheme. So a new agreement is not necessary, although it is very helpful to know that the Compton Estate will release the restrictive covenants once a lease has been agreed.


What is the detail of the lease agreement you are working on?

The Heads of Terms, which we agreed many months ago with the MCA project team, proposed a lease for an initial period of 35 years at a peppercorn rent (£10pa). This period of 35 years was in line with Charity Commission guidance. After discussion with the Charity Commission, the proposal is for the lease period to be extended up to 99 years upon the commitment by the lessee to spend a substantial sum on repairs. The church would continue to have a limited, reserved use without charge (this being a Charity Commission requirement). The Heads of Terms also specified a break option for both parties (the two-way option was suggested by the MCA project team rather than St John’s), but this is now a contentious point that is being looked at again to provide reassurance on security of tenure.


With a lease, what is to stop St John’s from just taking the building back once it has been refurbished?

We will be working to ensure that the lease grants security of tenure for the MECC and that any early break option by St John’s in the lease is not possible. The MECC will on the other hand have an option to surrender the lease if it cannot make the new community centre work in a financially sustainable way. We don’t believe that this will be the case and both parties want to see a new community solution thrive.


What is the residual use that the church has for the Hall?

St John’s runs a valuable community outreach service, Coffee Pot+, every Friday morning in the Hall. This is an opportunity for people from the Parish, particularly those who live on their own, to come together for social contact, enjoying a paperback library, jigsaw club, computer training and advice and other services. Lunch is also available from 12 noon for a modest cost. Although Coffee Pot+ moved temporarily to the church when the Parish Hall was closed for a few weeks before Christmas, the central village location is ideal for this activity. There may be other very occasional uses of the Hall by the church, but these will be minimised to allow the MECC every opportunity to maximise income from hiring the Hall.


Why has St John’s not done more to repair the Hall?

As already mentioned, as the Hall has aged it has become more and more onerous to do the substantial repairs that are needed. We also have the church building itself to maintain and we have spent substantial funds in recent years on repairs to the church roof, tower and other improvements inside and outside. We have continued to fund small repair work at the Hall and we have been subsidising the Hall’s day to day operations in recent years, so funds available for more substantial repairs have been very limited. We have recently paid for a new fire alarm system (installation of this equipment kindly provided pro bono by Don Foster) and we have underwritten the materials costs of other recent safety works done by community volunteers in the event that an agreement with the MECC does not go ahead. We are also paying the legal costs of drafting a lease. The public meeting we held in November 2022 was an opportunity to be honest with our local community about the financial pressures and to seek a different way forward, given the limited use that we as a church now make of the Hall.


What will happen if an agreement cannot be reached with the MECC?

We sincerely hope that an agreement will be reached and will do everything in our power to make this happen. But if for whatever reason we cannot conclude a lease agreement with the MECC, then we will look again at other options. We would not arbitrarily close the Hall, but neither would we wish to continue with the present situation, so another solution would have to be found.


What can I do to help?

The most important thing that parishioners can do at the present time is to pledge support to the MECC for the £100,000 matched funding it will need to raise if its bid to the Community Ownership Fund is successful. If it does not succeed, then local fundraising will be even more needed. Also, we would very much value prayers for the successful and speedy conclusion of an agreement.


February 2024