The Benenden Village Trust was set up following work on the Parish Plan (2015), which identified a number of weaknesses in the Harmsworth Memorial Trust governance by which the Parish Council was responsible for acting as sole trustee. It was perceived that elected Parish Councillors might not have the range of expertise or the time to manage what is a substantial charity, and also had difficulty avoiding conflicts of interest between their two distinct roles as politicians and Trustees.
Advice from the Charity Commission pointed to setting up a relatively new form of Trust, a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation) as successor to the HMT, allowing all parishioners to take up membership and be involved in the election of trustees and scrutiny of their decisions.
The Trustees of the Harmsworth Memorial Trust decided to transfer its assets to the ownership of the Benenden Village Trust on 1st April 2018.
Those assets are:
Benenden Village Hall and Recreation Field
The Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Recreation Field was at first just the west end of the football pitch - donated under covenants to the Parish Council by Viscount Rothermere in 1920 in commemoration of Peace at the end of the Great War of 1914 to 1918 and in memory of his eldest son. In 1930 Collingwood Ingram sold the eastern half to the Parish Council. The Village Hall was built in the 1970s, largely funded by the sale of allotments also given by Viscount Rothermere but underused, to be developed as sheltered Housing (Harmsworth Court) and low cost housing (Rothermere Close, now all owner occupied).
The land is under covenant to be used “for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Parish, for recreation and games”. The Bowling Green is leased to the Club; the public lavatory is owned by the Parish Council but stands on Trust land.
Iden Green Recreation Field
The Vere Sidney Harmsworth Recreation Field was a further gift from Viscount Rothermere in 1924, in commemoration of Peace at the end of the Great War of 1914 to 1918 and in memory of his second son lost in WWI.
The tennis courts are leased to the Iden Green Tennis Club and the Pavilion to the Iden Green Pavilion Trust.
St George's Hall
Built in 1881 as St George’s Club by the Earl of Cranbrook and sold as part of the Hemsted estate, it too was given to the Parish Council by Viscount Rothermere in 1924 as a Recreation Hall or Club, with the expectation that the upper floor would continue to be used as a Parish Room for the Parish Council. The ground floor is leased to St George’s Club, the upper floor has, since the building of the Village Hall with its office, been leased initially to the playgroup, now the Preschool. The building also contains a residential flat which previously housed the Club Steward, but is now let.
As with the Benenden allotments, Viscount Rothermere in 1924 gave a field for allotments on the north side of Woodcock Lane in Iden Green. In 2015, the covenants were legally varied to allow part of the land to be leased to the English Rural Housing Association to build and manage Vyvyan Cottages as affordable housing. The remaining land is currently used for grazing.
Viscount Rothermere in 1924 also gave £2,050 in 31/2% War Stock (perhaps the equivalent of £125,000 at 2019 values); the Trust’s reserves are now invested in the COIF Charities Investment Fund managed by CCLA Fund Managers Limited.