By Richard Belfield
Bensted’s is an unusual local charity. On first glance, it looks more like an investment trust. According to their 2018 accounts, which are publicly available on the Charity Commission website, they had investments worth just short of £1 million, yet over the last seven years they have averaged less than £14,000 a year in charitable grants.
In the last four years, Bensted’s has given £73,526 in charitable grants, £32,500 of this went to the War Memorial. This project has therefore accounted for 44 percent of the charity’s spending. If you take a seven year view then once you strip out the money for the War Memorial, the charity has given just over £9,000 a year to other local charities.
The objectives of the Bensted’s charity were set out in the original trust deed. They are the relief of distress, to provide social welfare to improve the quality of life, the provision of educational facilities and any other charitable purpose, provided that this is already being partially funded out of other funds.
Every year, the Trustees have set aside money for future projects. Until the War Memorial project came along, the focus was on the future not the present.
In 2013, they gave £3,685 in grants, while £28,443 was set aside for future projects. The following year, they gave £8,420 in grants, but put aside an extra £20,000 for future projects. They spent £,2000 of this the following year. Each year since 2015, the set aside has grown. By 2018, there was £53,439 carried over at the end of the year. It was classed as “income balance carried forward.”
In an answer to an email from the Faversham Eye, Sue Bayford, the Clerk to the Trustees explained that the Trustees only pay out charitable funds on receipt of a copy invoice from the organisation/individual to prove that the money is being spent correctly, “and/or until they have been able to secure the balance of funds required to complete the project.”
When the charity prepares the end of year accounts these pledges for future spending are put into “income balance carried forward.” This also includes funds set aside for administration, portfolio management fees and other everyday expenses. As of 2018, £41,102 was set aside for future funding projects. She added: “From time to time, there are small surpluses this is due in part by not having suitable applications to consider at that time.”
From Victorian workhouse to charity
Bensted’s started life in 1835 as the Faversham workhouse, a particularly hateful Victorian institution founded on the belief that if people were poor it was their own fault because they were lazy, stupid or feckless or any combination of the three. Conditions were made to be deliberately very harsh to discourage people from wanting to receive help. Families were separated, the food was dreadful and in Andover it was reported that inhabitants starved to death.
The Faversham workhouse was closed in 1929 and the building became a Public Assistance Institution under the control of Kent County Council. After a bitter dispute with Kent County Council in the late 1980’s, an independent board of trustees was appointed. The new trustees sold part of the land and this left the charity with around £500,000 as a permanent endowment.
The idea of an endowment is that the original sum remains untouched. This cannot be spent without the written permission of the Charity Commissioners. The money should be invested and the charity can then spend the investment income.
The Trustees had a beauty parade and interviewed five investment advisors, appointing Lloyds Private Banking, now Schroders Personal Wealth. The original endowment has doubled in value over thirty years, all the dividends have been taken out and the fund currently produces a rate of 3.86 percent a year.
The War Memorial
The Bensted’s Chairman, Andrew Osborne, dismisses any criticism of the War Memorial. He says that some people will like the design, others will not. That is a matter of taste and personally, he says he likes it. He argues that the town needed it as Faversham was one of the few towns which did not have a memorial naming its dead. He also argues that the opposition to the memorial was personal and came "from critics who did not like some of the key Trustees involved."
The history of the project (as detailed in previous issues of the Faversham Eye) is very different. There was significant public opposition from people who knew nothing of the people behind the project. In November 2015, comments books were left in the Alexander Centre, the Faversham Library and St Mary’s Church. The people’s voice was clear. Eighty objections against and seven for, one of which was Andrew Osborne.
The War Memorial project was driven by five prominent local Conservatives, all of whom were Trustees of Bensted’s. Four of them were Councillors, Andrew Bowles, Anita Walker, Tom Gates and Mike Cosgrove. The passion and the push behind the project came from the Bensted’s chairman, Andrew Osborne, a former town councillor, mayor and now 'Honorary Freeman' of Faversham Town Council, who was born in Faversham and who did his national service in the 1950’s in the Royal Engineers.
Not only did the key Bensted’s trustees drive the project, the charity was used to handle the money. Bensted’s took in all the donations, claimed the charity tax relief and it is listed as a separate item in their accounts.
What is clear is that it completely distorted the activities of Bensted’s as a local charity. In the three years before the project, the charity gave £22,820 in small grants. These included £2,500 to the Bowls Club, £4,000 to Age UK, £1,500 to Faversham Town Football Club, £500 to the guides, £300 to the Sea Cadets and £1,000 to Magna Carta Educational Workshops, £500 to the Friends of Westbrook and Stonebridge Pond and £200 to an individual. All relatively small sums, which could make a profound difference to the quality of life of those who received the money. Then everything changed. Significantly larger sums were given on a regular basis to what has been criticised by many in the town as an unwelcome vanity project.
The irony is that they did not need to spend this money. In all, the War Memorial committee raised £206,000. The cost of building was £166,000, leaving a surplus of £40,000. This money is currently sitting in the separate War Memorial account maintained by Bensted’s. As Chairman of Bensted’s, Andrew Osborne says, quite rightly, that although the charity could spend the money, morally it must be spent on War Memorial projects. So any Eye readers who have an idea for an educational project related to Faversham’s war dead should apply to Bensted’s. The money is there waiting for you.
The current asset position of the charity was further boosted last year. A local fruit broker, Colin Sharpe left £500,000 to Bensted’s in his will. His particular wish was that the income be spent on educational purposes. The current value of the Bensted’s investments is now £1,523,993.
BENSTEDS KEY NUMBERS
The cash mountain increased by £144,073 between 2013 and 2018, from £783,267 to £925,340.
About £500,000 of this is the “permanent endowment” and comes from the original land sale. The balance, around £427,000 is the accumulated profits. It can be spent as the Trustees wish.
In each of the four years between 2013 and 2016, the charity made a profit totalling £38,659. In 2017 and 2018, when the charity started making substantial donations to the War Memorial it spent £10,214 more than it earned in income.
In four years between 2013 and 2019, it gave £96,356 in grants. £32,500 – one third of this – went to the War Memorial.
Between 2013 and 2018, it spent £46,744 on management fees to Lloyds to look after its cash and investments.
Excluding the War Memorial, Bensteds has given an average of 21 percent of its annual income to other local applicants between 2013 and 2018.
Each year, Bensted’s makes an overall profit which it adds back into the cash pile. In 2018, this figure was £62,770 having grown from £28,443 in 2013. This is accounted for as money set aside to future projects.
Bensted’s charity was set up to help local residents. Its stated aims are:
the relief of need and distress
to help improve the conditions of life and social welfare of local people through the provision of facilities for recreation or other leisure time occupations
The provision and support of educational facilities
Any other charitable purpose for the benefit of local people
Andrew Bowles - former Faversham Town Councillor (Tory)
Mike Cosgrove - former Faversham Town Councillor (Tory)
Councillor Mark Dance - Councillor on Kent County Council, based in Whitstable (Tory)
Cindy Davis - former Faversham Town Councillor (Tory)
Tom Gates - former Faversham Town Councillor (Tory)
Councillor Ben J Martin - current Faversham Town Councillor (Liberal Democrat)
Andrew Osborne - former Faversham Town Councillor and Mayor (Tory)
Councillor Julian Saunders - current Faversham Town Councillor (Labour)
Anita Walker - former Faversham Town Councillor (Tory)
When KCC briefly had control of Bensted’s charity they sold a chunk of the Kiln Court land to themselves at what now looks suspiciously like a knock down price.
The basic facts are not disputed.
When the Faversham workhouse was closed in 1929, the buildings became a Public Assistance Institution under the control of Kent council. In 1948, the Poor Laws were finally abolished. Kent county council used the site as an old people’s home for 200 residents, as well as a hospital and ambulance station administered by the Canterbury and Thanet Health Authority.
By the early 1980’s, KCC assumed they owned the site. Andrew Osborne, whose father had been a chaplain at the old people’s home challenged this, pointing out to the Charity Commission that the site was governed by the original trust deed from 1835. The 2.62 acres of land were owned by the charity. KCC did not own the land, it was controlled by the original deed.
What happened next was extraordinary. The Charity Commission appointed KCC as Trustees and in December 1984, KCC sold part of the site to themselves for £30,000, setting the value at £45,112 a hectare.
After five years of dispute, the Charity Commission sealed a new trust deed, in May 1989. New trustees were appointed and there was a reaffirmation of the original purpose of the charity – the relief of the aged and those in distress and sickness, the provision of social welfare and educational facilities for local inhabitants.
As the row became even more bitter, KCC suggested that Swale Borough should run the charity. Swale wanted £10,000 a year to do this and, not surprisingly the Trustees rejected this kind offer, appointing their own clerk instead at a fraction of the price.
The Trustees then put in two planning applications. In what looks like spite, Swale rejected them both. The application went to appeal, the charity won and planning permission was granted in May 1991. Bensted’s then sold the land to John Mowlem Homes for £475,000, having had to knock £40,000 off the price because of the further deterioration of the site caused by the delays when Swale rejected two planning applications.
What rankles with the Bensted’s Trustees is this: KCC sold a chunk of the land to themselves in a rising market at a rate of £45,112 a hectare. Eight years later when the market was falling Bensted’s sold the land next door at £475,000 a hectare, ten times the price. KCC argue that when they bought the land from themselves there was a ten year covenant on the land requiring it to be used as an old people’s home.
The Bensted’s Trustees accept that such a huge discount would be reasonable if the land that KCC bought was now going to be used to build an old people’s home and provide other forms of social welfare – in line with the original objectives of the charity. That is not the case. KCC is looking to develop the site for housing at a massive profit.
Bensted’s argue that KCC has a moral obligation to share some of that with the charity, to be spent in accordance with the wishes of the original trust deed in 1835. Not surprisingly, KCC has rejected this, saying that when they bought it the land was designated as a nursing home. Ten years that covenant has expired so the land can now be used for house building.
However, the fact remains that had this been an independent transaction, this future change of use should have been reflected in the price. It was not.
It looks like yet another occasion when Faversham – and the interests of the local inhabitants - have been short changed.