The Garth Club hall, in St John’s Road, was closed in 2012 following an unsuitable roof replacement. Since then, the parish council has gone to significant effort to devise a solution.
After successfully preventing an attempt in 2013 by the Royal British Legion, the trustee, to sell the building, the council commissioned surveys to establish repairability. It met the Legion confidentially to try to agree a solution that served the community, but without a resolution.
In November 2022, the Legion informed the parish council of intent to sell the hall, with any proceeds, less unspecified costs, going to the YMCA, a former trustee.
The parish council believes the proposal conflicts with both the club Trust intent and community wishes. The council intends to inform the Legion why it believes the building should be passed on to any suitable organisation prepared to repair and run it for community use if the Legion will not repair/rebuild and reopen it itself.
Here is a more detailed history:
The Garth Club hall was built in 1915 by Miss Capron in memory of her nephew, killed in World War I, for the use of the young men of the village, probably particularly aimed at servicemen.
In 1942 the YMCA was appointed trustee and its use confirmed as for “young men and other persons” - in effect anyone local.
In 1959 the Royal British Legion’s London headquarters took over from the YMCA as trustee. The local British Legion hired the hall out for diverse functions.
In 2008 the hall was damaged by fire.
In 2010 it appears that the Legion registered the property with HM Land Registry for the first time, with themselves as owner.
In about 2011 the local British Legion commissioned a refurbishment which included re-roofing the building with unsuitably heavy tiles. This led to structural damage and in about 2012 the Legion banned entry until the roof was repaired and declared safe. The Legion arranged prop hire to support the roof and security to prevent access. We do not think the Legion pursued the builder to make good the damage and the builder reportedly went bankrupt sometime afterwards. The local British Legion reportedly had no funds to rectify the problem.
In March 2013 the British Legion declared intent to sell the hall, by notice in the Reading Chronicle. The parish council wrote to the Charity Commission objecting. The Commission referred the parish council to the British Legion trustee who did not respond. In April 2013, the parish council applied to West Berkshire Council for the building to be listed under the Community Right to Bid scheme. This was successful, with the hall being added to the register on 18 June 2013
The council worked on a business plan to use the hall as both a village amenity and to house the parish council office. The aim was to try to preserve the hall for community use.
In June 2015, the Charity Commission produced a draft plan (“scheme” being the technical term) to change the trust’s objects to allow the British Legion to sell the hall and share the proceeds between it and the YMCA. The parish council objected. In October 2015 the Commission issued its report on the plan, which concluded that the British Legion could not vary the Trust in this way and that the scheme should be withdrawn. The Charity Commission suggested that the British Legion and parish council should discuss the issues raised in its report, including repairability of the hall, the trusteeship, and the trust objects.
In September 2016, the parish council met with the British Legion who stated that they did not wish to remain as trustees.
In late 2017 the parish council commissioned a structural survey of the building to help quantify the repairability. A condition survey had been conducted in 2012.
The council considered that repairable or not, it was sensible to explore whether the Trust objects (intent) could be revised with the ultimate aim of ensuring the community remained the beneficiary.
Further meetings took place with the British Legion in 2019. In those meetings the council gained agreement in principle that the Legion would pass the building back to the community. The Legion shared their legal advice and in 2020 the council agreed it should seek its own. The Legion passed on further advice indicating that there needed to be extensive public consultation on any proposal including establishing if there is anyone in the village willing to take over the trusteeship, to repair and run the hall in accordance with the Trust intent. Discussions with the British Legion paused during COVID-19 and have not resumed.
During 2022 the council became aware of local parties interested in repairing/running the building. We understand that those parties were declined access to the building by the British Legion, the Legion informing them that they were obtaining legal advice. One interested party has this month (January 2023) apparently asked RBL again for access.
In November 2022, the British Legion informed the parish council of its intent to dispose of the property, giving the proceeds, after deducting unspecified costs, to the YMCA. The Legion claims that its proposal aligns with the Garth Club Trust intent and so does not require Charity Commission approval. The parish council has sought legal advice on the Legion’s proposal and at the full council meeting on 12th January 2023 agreed that its solicitors would respond to the British Legion disagreeing with its proposal.