Girton village website

Focus on Girton Town Charity

Almost all of us have heard of it. Many of us in Girton have benefited from it. Residents in other Cambridgeshire villages are envious of it. The Girton Parish News carries its reports most months. But if asked "What exactly is the Girton Town Charity?" most of us would find it difficult to answer precisely.

The Girton Town Charity is certainly distinctive, if not unique. In asset size, it probably comes in the top thousand of British charities. It is based and administered entirely within the village and operates solely for the benefit of the parishioners of Girton, without distinction of origins or any other factor.

A parish charity existed in Girton as early as 1521. The Charities of Cambridgeshire in 1839 listed as belonging to the parish charity some 65 acres of agricultural land, mainly in Girton but also in Oakington, Madingley and Westwick, as well as a parish house divided into six tenements for needy families, a blacksmith's shop and a clerk's allotment. The parish house apparently was demolished around 1848 to permit the building of the Cotton Hall and in 1851 further land and hereditaments were transferred from Sir St Vincent Cotton of Madingley and others.

The present charity dates back to 1910, when four parish councillors complained to the Charity Commission that they were very dissatisfied with the expenditure on church assets rather than on the inhabitants of the parish. Under this pressure of public and also wider political opinion, a settlement was reached whereby the many endowments of the Parish Church were divided equally between the parish and a new village charity, grandiloquently titled "Town". A parish meeting on 8 November 1910 to set the Charity on its way was said to have been "attended by nearly everyone in the village". At the time, the assets were of modest value, but from their income the Town Charity was set up to provide almshouses for those in need, activities of "relief in need" and to enable works of general public benefit. These objectives have continued unchanged for over a hundred years to the present day.

In the early years the distribution of charity money to needy villagers was its main activity, supplemented then by coal allocations to widows and widowers annually of three hundredweights (153 kg) and a third more to those over 70. The Charity built two almshouses on the High Street in 1934, and a further four there in St Michael's Close in the late 1960s and early 70s, initially for retired farm workers who had been required to leave their tied cottages. Numerous benevolent initiatives were also pursued.

The great breakthrough in the Charity's fortunes occurred in the 1990s, when the Modeluxe Laundry and the Cambridge Cold Storage businesses on the Cambridge Road at the southern end of village both closed. The Charity owned the agricultural land behind, and after much controversy succeeded in acquiring access in order to allow development to take place on what was zoned as "white" building land for housing. The sale of the land in 2003 for the subsequent Wellbrook Way estate provided the main basis of the Charity's present endowments, which currently amount to about £21 million, generating an income flow of more than half a million pounds per year and permitting major capital projects as well as ongoing expenditure.

Faced with this massive expansion, the Charity undertook a major change of entity, and 2009 converted itself into a modern corporate format as the Girton Town Charity Ltd, a company limited by guarantee (number 6918381), devoted to benevolent purposes within the civil parish. As such it is subject to corporate legislation and advantages, as well as being a registered charity (number 1130272) under the Charities Act 2006 and reporting annually to the Charity Commission. Its portfolio of assets is managed by four leading investment companies in a cautious manner, while liquidity is ensured by considerable cash reserves. Seven trustees control the Charity, all having deep connections with the village, and all except one reside here. Five are nominated by the Girton Parish Council, and two by the trustees themselves and all serve a five year term. The current four men and three women trustees are representative of the village rather than experts, and all devote a very considerable amount of their personal time to the Charity, entirely unpaid. A new development in 2010-11 has been the opening of a Charity office at 22 High Street. The office is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings 10am - 1pm and staffed by Mrs Penny Knight the administrative assistant (and a former Parish Clerk), in order to assist enquirers and applicants. But the running costs of the Charity are kept to a minimum, and tight control is kept on expenditure through the constant vigilance of the trustees.

For the residents of Girton, the benefits are many. Best known to most of us are the individual provisions which are available to all residents of the village, without any requirement to demonstrate individual need. Personal grants for costs of educational books and equipment to our young people (and even mature students) in higher education and specified vocational training are currently set up to £200 per year for a maximum of four years. In 2010-11, grants of over £4500 were made. The heavily-subsidised hospital taxi service to Addenbrooke's, Chesterton and Buchan Street hospitals provided by local businesses Martin Nelson and Wendy Barrett is a godsend to many patients, with 113 participants in 2010-11, at a cost of about £1000 per month including the prescription delivery service organised through the Surgery in Pepys Way. This is a new service which is only available to those whom the practice pharmacist knows as being unble to get their medicines themselves.

Little known and entirely discreet are the many individual grants made to parishioners in need, for reasons of age, infirmity, illness, misfortune, bereavement, incapacity and a wide variety of other social and personal factors. This assistance enables families to remain together, people to continue independent living, individuals to get through a difficult patch, students to complete a special part of their education or training, and helps people in all sorts of ways to build up their moral or physical strength to make a significant advance in their capability. So grants have been made for a wide range of needs, such as kitchen renovations, provision of showers, mobility aids, home modifications for families with special requirements, and many other non-physical needs such as personal and family support or respite holidays. Wherever possible, contracts are placed with Girton-based businesses. The trustees sympathetically but carefully investigate each application, and one trustee personally follows through the progress and outcome of each award. The details of all such applications and grants are kept very strictly confidential, and the trustees work closely with medical, legal and social care professionals in making their decisions. In 2010-11 grants of over £20,000 were made to individual parishioners and families, young and old, for a wide variety of purposes.

The provision of almshouses continues in an updated manner. The properties in St Michael's Close are starting to show their age and require constant maintenance (£37,000 in 2010-11). So the Charity has undertaken to provide seven new-build almshouses specially designed to meet modern requirements on the Wellbrook Way estate at a planned cost of £1million as well as making a commitment to purchase three apartments in the Abbeyfield UK complex there at a cost of £0.75million. Progress is well advanced on both projects. The Charity still owns land around the village, notably the north half of the "Montague" allotments, which it leases to the Girton Allotment Society.

But the majority of the Charity's expenditure is devoted to the collective benefit of the village, financing facilities for the communal use and enjoyment of all our parishioners. The Cotton Hall has in recent years been a major beneficiary, and its refurbishment has attracted grants totalling nearly £0.6million. The Girton Glebe School has enjoyed numerous grants, particularly for equipment, after-school provision educational trips, and artistic activities. Other local schools such as the Dry Drayton and Oakington Primary Schools also receive grants to reflect the fact that they are attended by Girton children for whom there were no places at the Glebe: these are of the order of £150-£200 per pupil per year. A recent major grant in 2009-10 to the Girton Village Institute for modernisation amounted to £62,000. The youth activities of the village, in particular those run jointly with the YMCA, have attracted much recent support, in 2010-11 being £28,600. Both of our churches have received grants recently. The Girton Baptist Church's major enhancement programme attracted grants of over £125,000 in 2006 while the Parish Church of St Andrew has enjoyed several grants for various projects such as the path lighting, clock and the porch, totalling £38,000. Many awards each year for the continuing operations of our village organisations include those to the Scouts, and the various sporting clubs of the village, as well as to cultural groups, adding up to £4,000 in 2010-11. The dividing line between voluntary and statutory collective provisions is often difficult to define, and the Charity has to tread carefully. In some such cases, the Charity has insisted that it will match pound-for-pound the funds raised by the applicant organisation. The Charity reports all its activities annually to the Parish Meeting, and also on its website (see below).

The Charity has a dilemma with collective grants to organisations based outside the village, which nevertheless provide services to residents. The many such regional and national bodies often have highly-developed fund-raising initiatives, and will cite the number of Girton residents who benefit from their services. The Charity has adopted a proportionality principle, and hence the Arthur Rank Hospice or the Milton Children's Hospice (for example) have been awarded three-year grants based on the percentage of village clients who are cared for. At the same time, providers who physically operate within the parish receive direct grants, such as those made to the Cambridge Citizens' Advice Bureau (CAB) or the hearing charity CAMTAD, both of whom offer consultations in the village. All grants are closely monitored by the trustees by report and by personal visit, to ensure their viability and sustainability, and to ensure that claimed benefits are indeed achieved.

The longest-serving trustee is Mrs Jill Scrine, since 1976, when one of the trustees' first actions was to discontinue the moribund coal allocation which had become the Charity's main function. Coming from a medical background, she has responsibility for the almshouses, and has taken a particular interest in the Charity's work with sickness and incapacity, older people's problems and respite care. Standing down next year she remarks how the Charity has made the village distinct, and emphasises the real satisfaction of seeing the major difference in so many people's lives that has resulted from awards.

So how to sum up the Girton Town Charity? Undoubtedly, remarkable in its extent, assets and benefits. Admirable in terms of its distribution of grants. Problematic in terms of the future, particularly relating to the nature of future social and individual needs, and political initiatives such as the Big Society. Even in a relatively prosperous community such as Girton, still meeting many needs which change continually. And perhaps its greatest challenge is how to acquaint each and every parishioner, young and old, needy or not, with the existence of the Charity and its capacity to make a change for the better in their lives.

A final word from the Charity's chairman Dr Robin Hiley who says "The trustees of GTC over the years have worked hard to shape it to the village's needs, but need the support of everyone in the village to enable it to show its true potential in meeting the needs of Girton residents, both present and future."

So if you think that you, or one of your family, or any resident you know could benefit from an award from the Girton Town Charity, do not hesitate to contact, meet and discuss in total confidence with any trustee (see list on page (insert !) of this issue) or Mrs Penny Knight in the Charity's office (telephone 276008), or email It's your heritage - use it!

Address: Girton Town Charity
22 High Street
Cambridge CB3 0PU

Telephone 01223 276008

Email gtc@girtontown

"Focus on Girton" is a series of occasional articles on the organisations of Girton. The first series ran from September 2005 to April 2007 and concentrated on public service and commercial organisations. This present series covers the community and voluntary organisations of the village.

Articles are written independently by members of the editorial team of the Girton Parish News, with the consent and cooperation of the organisation concerned. The selection of organisations featured is entirely at the discretion of the editorial team. The articles do not in themselves represent an endorsement of the aims or activities of organisations. No link exists between the publication of an article and any advertising in the Girton Parish News, whether in the same issue or more generally.