Brief Account of the Wensleydale and Swaledale Quaker Trust

(formed by the amalgamation of the seven former Richmond Monthly Meeting Trusts)

The history of Quakerism in the Dales is well documented and colourful. Quakers have a long tradition of prudence and fairness in managing property, conducting business and using money.

In these two sentences lies the essential origin of the Wensleydale and Swaledale Monthly Meeting Trusts. Five of them were created in the years 1670, 1687, 1736, 1745, 1799 by bequests from individual Quakers. Later two General Trusts were set up in 1918 (originally formed in 1884) and 1933. So Quakers in Wensleydale and Swaledale Monthly Meeting (formerly known as Richmond Monthly Meeting) now have a legacy of property and land the income from which has benefited many people and good causes over the years, right up until the present day.

Each of the Trusts is entrusted to the Meeting for specific causes but mainly (directly or indirectly) for the relief of local needy Quakers, the upkeep of local Meeting Houses, and the support of any good and charitable deeds in accordance with Quaker principles, and the upkeep of local Quaker burial grounds.

The Trustees themselves are appointed by Quakers. At present six are from the Wensleydale and Swaledale Monthly Meeting and two are from the wider area within Durham General Meeting. Trustees serve for a period of three to six years and are jointly and severally responsible for the correct running of the Trusts and compliance with Charity Law. The Trustees appoint a Managing Agent for the properties who liases between tenant and landlord i.e. the Trustees. The Agent is easily contactable and is on hand to deal with most emergencies that may occur.

In 1979 Richmond Monthly Meeting drew up a set of Guidelines which required a Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer to be appointed from within the Trustees, and usually there is enough expertise within the group to offer advice on accounting, legal issues and building maintenance. More recently Trustees have appointed a Clerk and Assistant Clerk and minutes have been agreed during the meeting in accordance with normal Quaker business methods.The last Quinquennial Survey of the properties took place in 2004.

The recent tightening of Charity Law has both helped and hindered the Trustees in their administration of the Trusts. The interpretation of Trustsí eighteenth century wording and the right distribution of the income has now to be carried out in a form which ties in with the firm guidelines of the Charity Commission.

This has made it necessary to look again at the seven Trusts and their wording so that compliance with the guidelines is simplified. Interpretation of the Trustsí objectives is difficult. For example the numbers of poor and needy Quakers locally has fallen along with the reducing Quaker population. Quakers that were in need of accommodation were sometimes not local and often elderly. The accommodation that was offered is sometimes itself elderly, difficult to manage and not altogether suitable for their needs. As a result the Trustees have tended to use the properties either for local people in need connected with Quakers in some way, and as well as a source of income to advance Quaker concerns.

Another challenge for the Trustees is that they must be seen to gain the maximum financial benefit from their investments and properties. Sometimes this attitude does not coincide with Quaker values and discernment, as in the case of the rents charged being often below market rates (formerly up to 50% below, although this is not the case now).

Money is distributed in the way of grants and, occasionally, loans. The Trustees consider carefully all applications received at their meetings which are held quarterly. Trustees try to organise their distribution of grants in a well-balanced way between personal requests (in cases of hardship or need, or in carrying out some Quaker or other charitable work), building requirements (local or other Meeting House upkeep, or use in other charitable building schemes) and general Quaker work (appeals for funds for specific work or, Britain Yearly Meeting Funds). They ensure that as far as possible Quaker applications are dealt with as priority.

All appeals are dealt with bearing in mind the spirit in which the original Trusts were set up. Monies are not distributed in response to urgent disaster appeals as it is felt that these do not come under the remit of any of the Trusts.

In consideration of these and other points, the Trustees are working closely with the Charity Commission to amalgamate the seven Trusts into a single, more easily manageable Trust, allowing Trustees a flexibility of interpretation whilst conforming to the strict new legislation.

Tenants of the properties will continue to find the Trustees good landlords. The cottages are let on accepted tenancy agreements signed by both parties initially for a period of six months, and automatically extended indefinitely unless either tenant or landlord wishes to terminate for good reason. The landlord is expected to keep the property sound and weather tight, keep the plumbing and heating working well, and keep the external paintwork under review. The tenant(s) are responsible for the interior decoration, upkeep of any gardens, and reporting all problems promptly in the first place to the Managing Agent.

Requests for improvements and alterations to the properties are dealt with as speedily as possible with prior approval and possible rent adjustment by the Trustees where substantial improvements are made.

We hope this outline of the work of the Trustees will be helpful to our members and attenders.

More information about the people responsible for the original Trusts can be accessed on application to the Clerk of Wensleydale and Swaledale Area Meeting who will be able to suggest ways of researching the subject more deeply.

Details of the Trusts and their annual accounts can be found on the Charity Commissioners web site at: http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/SHOWCHARITY/RegisterOfCharities/CharityWithoutPartB.aspx?RegisteredCharityNumber=221137&SubsidiaryNumber=0