Friends set out the future of London Quaker structures

'We’ve got around sixty-seven trustees across London and, basically, we can’t find people to do the jobs.’ Friends in London discuss proposals to form a single charity to govern Meetings in the capital

London Quakers (LQ) and the London Quaker Property Trust (LQPT) met last week to discuss proposals to form a single charity to govern Meetings in the capital.

The gathering at Friends House on 27 April, entitled ‘Living Adventurously’, built on a conversation that started last year when a group was formed to produce a paper looking at how changes in governance might reduce the burden on trustees. The group members were approached by London clerks after LQ and the LQPT met in 2018.

According to the minute from the Meeting, the eighty Friends in attendance united behind a ‘preferred option of a single pan-London Quaker charity… that would take over the functions of LQPT and the charitable trust aspects of the seven Area Meetings. Area Meetings would remain as Quaker bodies, handing aspects such as membership and Quaker life.’

The minute ends: ‘There will be much to be done both short and long term, but these friends have grasped a difficult challenge.’ The minute noted ‘the joy shared by many who were there and the energy and life in the Meeting’. It was co-clerked by Fred Ashmore and Bernadette O’Shea.

Jonathan Lingham, clerk of London West Area Meeting, told the Friend: ‘Quakers are shrinking in numbers and we’re called on by the Charity Commission to do more and more to keep the organisation going. We’ve got around sixty-seven trustees across London and, basically, we can’t find people to do the jobs.’

According to a document entitled ‘Thoughts on the Meeting’ drafted prior to the Meeting, the aim of the new ste-up is to ‘liberate ourselves to focus on spiritual growth, community buildings and our witness in the world’.

Jonathan Lingham backed the idea of a single charity but said it would need careful management and sensitivity. ‘I like the idea of a single charitable board but the devil is in the detail, and there will be a lot of detail. For example, where does this leave Area Meetings (AMs) and Local Meetings (LMs) and their different responsibilities? We don’t want LMs to feel left behind. We still need to make sure people feel they are participating and still have a Quaker voice. It’s needs a lot of sensitivity in taking it forward and will need sensible management.’

According to the paper: ‘Friends in London currently operate with seven separate AM charities, and a pan-London property trust (LQPT). This means that of the 1,300 Friends in London, there is currently a requirement for about sixty-seven Friends to serve as trustees, and about forty-seven to serve as treasurers.’

Five of the AMs are charities that need to register with the Charity Commission by March 2021 as ‘the exemption for small religious charities is ending’.

Friends said is it clear that ‘today’s consideration is just the beginning of a fairly lengthy process of discernment’. They said the idea of a single charity is the best solution as it ‘substantially reduces the number of trustees needed; maximises the opportunities to use paid staff to reduce the load on trustees and on local premises committees; retains existing Area Meeting groups of Local Meetings; unites decision making on compliance and financial administration within one organisation instead of eight, reducing repetition and duplication’.

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