Establishment and Purpose
The General Trustees are the property-holding corporation of the Church of Scotland and were established by the Church of Scotland (General Trustees) Order Confirmation Act of 1921.
The specific purpose of the legislation was to provide the legal framework for properties to vest in this new corporation, i.e. the heritable properties (buildings) and investments, held by the different sets of Trustees on behalf of the then Committees of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. There followed a more comprehensive Act in 1925 dealing with the bulk of the church buildings, manses and glebes.
However, the day to day responsibilities for maintaining, heating, refurbishing and developing ecclesiastical buildings remains a local one, and it is recognised that these can be a burden to congregations.
The General Trustees provide support both by way of advice and information, and financially. With prior arrangement, the Trustees themselves are happy to visit church buildings and manses to allow the opportunity to give ‘on the spot’ advice, encouragement and guidance, particularly where congregations are considering embarking on major repairs, refurbishment, redevelopment and even construction of new places of worship.
Advice is available from the Secretary and Clerk’s staff on obtaining financial assistance from the General Trustees through the Central Fabric Fund or the various Bequest Funds and how to set about a major project. There is guidance available on the Church of Scotland website and staff can provide a guide on the processes to be followed.
The General Trustees are mindful of the need for congregations to examine their buildings from the point of view of having assets, which are (i) comfortable and attractive to user groups and (ii) used for more than one day a week. The Trustees are, therefore, prepared to offer grants for the cost of professional fees to enable congregations with limited income to employ an architect to consider, for instance, how to develop a multi-use sanctuary which would then allow possible disposal of a hall. The Trustees are also mindful of the requirements of the Equality Act (which replaced the original Disability Discrimination Act) and places duties on congregations to ensure their churches and halls are accessible and welcoming to those who are less able.
For Fabric and Property Conveners
It is essential nowadays to have a property team so that tasks and problems can be shared rather than having too great a burden placed upon an individual.
Fabric and Property Conveners will be familiar with the system of Quinquennial Reports (Professional Reports carried out every ten years and not five!). This system of property reports was instituted by the General Assembly to ensure a regular inspection and reporting mechanism on the condition of ecclesiastical buildings. This should allow every Fabric Convener and property team to have guidance as to what work must be carried out over the next few years and how best to organise a programme of work. It is vitally important that a Quinquennial Report does not end up on a shelf or is otherwise ignored. Observing the advice of a few words in the Urgent column of a Quinquennial Report and spending a few thousand pounds can avoid spending ten times that amount four or five years later.
Health and Safety
It can be very intimidating for a new Fabric or Property Convener when taking over the reins of responsibility for the maintenance of a church, hall or manse. There is a temptation often to grab a ladder and climb up to do basic maintenance work. However, that approach must be examined in the light of health and safety legislation. It is now mandatory to take precautions, not just of a basic nature, but to comply with legislative requirements particularly where significant work or work at high level is being carried out to a building. DO NOT ignore health and safety requirements; if in doubt, get in touch with the Law Department at the Church of Scotland national offices (121 George street, Edinburgh).