Whitehawk & Manor Farm Community Association: time residents & stakeholders revive the community owned Valley Social Centre
I wanted to write about the Valley Social Centre because there are lots of people having private discussions about its future and I feel that locals should be aware of what is happening or isn’t happening. Essentially this Community Association which was established back in the 1970’s is in a state of limbo.
There is a sub-lease in place at the moment which was signed when a campaign to save the centre was launched in 2019 following residents discovering the three trustees at the time were having meetings and planning to sell the centre to Brighton and Hove City Council for £500,000.
The Trustees led by the lead trustee Mary Mears who has been a serving Councillor and former Leader of Brighton Council since the Early 1990’s, Mary joined the community association as a trustee in 1994, the same year the conservatives held Brighton Council.
In Feb 2020 the three trustees tried to wind down the charity after the campaign was successful in stopping the sale to Brighton and Hove City Council. No lealflets were posted to locals to make them aware, and the only advertising was via an argus ad which if you blinked anyone would have missed it, the wind up meeting was also scheduled for 11am, a very inconvenient time for many working locals who were excluded from the meeting.
So Who Owns The Valley Social Centre
This is complicated, yet also simple. Basically as it stands the Whitehawk & Manor Farm Community Association Owns the Land, this was purchased from The diocese of Chichester in the 1980s when it was noting more than a small hall. Since then the Association has fundraised to improve the facilities, which led to lots of changes over the years leading to the building we have today.
When the trustees tried to wind up the charity, loads of residents who were against the plans turned up to the meeting , at that meeting there were four people leading the meeting. Mary Mears Chaired the meeting, John Commons a trustee was there, Fred Ransom a trustee was there, and Debbie Johnson who was a former employed Centre Manager was there.
Looking at the constitution and land registry you see a few names associated to the deed of trust, many have since passed away leaving Mary Mears on the deed for the land and asset.
The Association itself now only has one trustee who is alive, Fred Ransom & John Commons have since passed away, leaving Mary Mears, who is incapacitated after a severe stroke has left her in a care home, needed round the clock care and support.
It is also worth noting the remaining trustee has not lived in the area of benefit since they took over as a trustee and resided in Woodingdean.
The ACTUAL OWNERS IS THE COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION & THE AREA OF BENEFIT: WHITEHAWK and its MEMBERS: Residents & Stakeholders.
What is the legal position as it stands?
The Great News for the community is that there is a very good constitution in place and has been in place since the 1970’s. Under Section 16 of the Constitution it states on TRUST PROPERTY:
“16. TRUST PROPERTY. The title of all and any real property which may be acquired by or for the purposes of the Association shall be vested in Trustees who shall be appointed by the Council and who shall enter into a Deed of Trust setting forth the purposes and conditions under which they hold the said property in trust for the Association. The number of Trustees shall not be less than 2 nor more than 4.”
Currently the only surviving Trustee is former Conservative Councillor Mary Mears:
“If a Trustee becomes mentally incapacitated, has no beneficial interest in the Trust and there are other Trustees, and the Trustee does have a beneficial interest in the Trust then the Court of Protection must consent to the removal.”
What happens if a Trustee needs to be removed? (Removal of Trustees)
“There are different instances where a Trustee may need to be removed for example if there is a dispute between a Trustee and the beneficiaries, or a Trustee has not been acting in the best interests of the Trust.”
So Who are the beneficiaries?
For this we need to go back to the constitution which is clear and is non contestable:
” 4. INDIVIDUAL MEMBERSHIP shall be oren, irrespective of political party, nationality, religious opinion, race or colour, to:-
(a) All persons aged 18 years and over living in the area of benefit who shall be called FULL members.
(b) All persons over 15 years and under the age of 18 years living in the area of benefit who shall be called Junior Members.
Junior Members shall not have the right to vote at members meetings but may elect from among themselves two representatives to the Council who shall each have the right to vote as if they were Full members.”
The Best Solution For Everyone
If we refer back to the constitution for the community association then the directed route to resolve this matter is clearly documented:
” SPECIAL GENERAL MEETING. The Chairman of the Council or the Secretary may at any time at their discretion, and shall within twenty one days of receiving a written request so to do signed by not less than twenty members having the power to vote and giving reasons for the request, call a special General Meeting of ha Association for the purpose of altering the Constitution in accordance with Clause 18 hereof or of considering any matter which may be referred to them by tie Council or for any other purpose.”
So giving 28 days notice is sufficient and more than enough time. I would recommend members in the area of benefit compose a motion to lay out all the issues and ways you want to resolve those issues. Twenty Members minimum would need to sign this motion and then write an individual written request to be sent together with the other requests for a special general meeting to discuss the motion.
Seeing as there is no Chairperson or Secretary for the association as they have passed away, there remains no executive officers, therefore writing to the Charity Commission and providing them with the required notice and individual reasons for wanting to hold a special general meeting. It is of course polite and friendly to notify the remaining trustee and/or their power of attorney if no are no longer able to deal with Association Work.
A Majority Vote will be taken, ideally with observers from the council, elected councillors and charity commission to ensure the meeting is conducted in a proper fashion and is constitutionally legal and quorum. Minuted and Finalised.
It is sad that after four years we are still in a position where a community owned asset and vitally needed centre is not open and full of services which the residents (members) want and need. These include people from all background and age groups including many who have protected characteristics.
There has been government funding for centres just like the Valley Social Centre, and this stalemate has meant residents have missed out on vital funding and support which could have come directly from the government.
There are significant social issues & power grabbing a community centre has divided the community over uniting them which is what the wonderful EU Funded URBACT Community Project was all about!
The work has already been done, I urge those with a positive can do attitude and are willing to get there hands dirty and rebuild this centre from the bottom up to get involved and help reclaim the Valley Social Centre as Centre For Everyone in the community, for the community, run by the community & Associate Friends aka Stakeholders….