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Clare Combined Charities

Background Information
The first charity, ‘The Common Pasture’ was created in 1880. In 1905 part of this was converted to an ‘educational trust’. The ‘combined’ bit was introduced in 1924 to merge the five, by then, individual charities into one. This was confirmed by the Charity Commission in 1963 and comprises the Charity called the Common Pasture (1899), the Charity of William Cadge (1905), the Charity known as the Almshouse Charity and the Bridewell Meadow Charity (1865), the Charity known as the Poor’s Land or Goose Croft (1914) and the Charity known as the Collins Dole (1914). The Trustees at that time were a gentleman, a farmer, an ironmonger, a physician and surgeon, a miller, a bank agent, a tea dealer and the vicar of the parish of Clare. Since then, the vicar of the parish church of St Peter and St Paul has always been a ‘de facto’ Trustee.

Overall Responsibilities
The Charities is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of three buildings only which are the Almshouses in Church Lane. Land responsibilities cover Clare Common, the allotments and the Upper Common which is above them and Goosecroft.

There are nine Trustees, all appointed by Clare Town Council following the recommendations of The Trustees. This is not a political appointment and never should be. Trustees serve for a term of four years and are eligible for re-appointment each time. There is a chairman, a vice-chairman and, for the first time in 2013, two sub-committees, one for the Almshouses and another for the land holdings. The election of officers and subcommittee members takes place at the April meeting when the accounts for the previous year are approved. All Trustee meetings are private. There is a clerk and treasurer responsible for all administration, including the inevitable form filling, who serves without reappointment.

The Almshouses
There are a number of restrictions on who may occupy an almshouse under licence from The Charities. Each resident must be a single woman who has lived in Clare for the past twelve months at least. Men are not allowed! Neither are pets. Each resident pays a maintenance contribution for which The Charities provides all external repairs and maintenance. Currently, that covers the usual painting, decorating and repairs to roofing and guttering. Recently, the rear windows and doors were replaced and this will be concluded in the coming years for the front windows and doors. The Charities also pays for the water usage but the residents are responsible for all other bills and for internal decorating. Licence charges are reviewed every April with a small increase every three years as appropriate.

The Lower Common
This is public land which The Charities administers on behalf of Defra, the Dedham Vale and Stour Valley Trust and English Heritage. As part of the ‘contract’ with all three, especially Defra, The Charities are legally obliged to top the common before the end of June (to prevent thistle sowing) and to trim the hedges regularly, which is normally every three years. It is also a legal requirement, as laid down by the various documents since 1880, that cattle graze on the common. Income comes from the grazing rent and a grant from Defra which, this year is one-third of what it was last year. Maintenance of the fences and especially the access gates occupies a lot of time and money.

The Allotments
All of these are private property. They are not the responsibility of Clare Town Council. They are not open for access to non-tenants. All footpaths servicing the allotments are private as well. Only the boundary track is public. The Charities leases them to residents of the Parish of Clare on an annual basis. There are a number of rules which the tenants must honour. For examples, the plots are for agricultural use only. They are not for BBQs, dog exercise yards or children’s playgrounds. Tenants should tend their plots diligently, not leave them in an unkempt state (which prevents other people from renting them usefully) and should not pass them on to other people or swap with existing tenants. All requests must be made through the clerk of the time. Tenants not following the rules
may be asked to surrender their tenancy. Rents are reviewed annually with usually an increase in rent every three years or so. In the first instance.

The Upper Common
This is currently farmed, for which The Charities received an annual rent. The Charities does not have any obligation to maintain any of that land.

This land is along the road leading to Chilton Street near to the currently disused storage yard. It is let for grazing and The Charities receives an annual rent for this as well.

Education Grants
The Charities advertises each January for students to request a grant to aid their education. Under the restrictions of the education part of the combined charities, grants can only be given to students who are not in full time education. They are available to individuals or to organisations only if they work for and benefit Clare. Grants may be given for the purchase of books and equipment to aid studies but not for the payment of education fees or general running costs. They are not eligible to help towards school trips for individual pupils. Past grants have been allocated for books for school libraries and equine medicinal studies.

The Charities receives income from licensing the Almshouses to their respective residents for occupation, the grazing on the common and allotment rents. There is a small grant from Defra but from no other source. From that income, outgoings cover maintenance to the Almshouses and the common. Details of the accounts are available on the Charity Commission website. For the financial year ending 31 March 2013, total income was just under £11,000, of which nearly £9,000 was spent on servicing the various charity commitments. The balance, around £2,000, was held to finance future large projects.

Common Problems
As with most parts of Clare, those dog owners who fail to keep proper control of their pets and who do not clear up after them present a big problem, especially in the allotments. Vandalism of boundary fences does not occur often but, when it does, usually means the spending of at least £500 to repair the mindless damage caused by mindless people. Most people using the common are quite responsible and cause no trouble at all. Occasionally, there is cattle worrying by people and their dogs. British law states that, during the cattle grazing season, all dogs must be on a lead in their vicinity. Sadly, some dog owners believe that such a law does not apply to them and that it is not their fault when things go wrong and mother cattle seek to protect their own children. People use the common free of charge. The cattle owner pays for grazing his animals. The Trustees therefore have a specific duty of care under contract to him to which they are obliged to give priority over any general duty owed to the public. Generally, though, problems involving The Charities are rare and small. The Trustees will continue to ensure that all their duties and responsibilities are performed in accordance with legal requirements
and to continue to serve the community for some years to come.