Thank you to ACRE's honorary legal advisor retiring after 20 years

Thank you to ACRE's honorary legal advisor retiring after 20 years
02 September 2016 by Deborah Clarke, Village Halls/ Rural Evidence Manager

ACRE’s Honorary Legal Adviser, Jonathan Dawson, is stepping down after 20 years of providing advice, support and guidance for village halls and similar rural community buildings. His calm, reassuring but no nonsense attitude has steered hundreds of village hall committees through a range of land and property issues and no query has ever been too small or too complicated for him to tackle. In addition he has willingly shared his knowledge and expertise with ACRE and the national Network of Advisers.

As author of the Charity Commission approved Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) model constitution for village halls he has been able to guide hall committees and advisers through the conversion process helping to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Village hall management committees are also full of praise for the service Jonathan has provided to them: “Jonathan Dawson has given considerable help and advice to our village charity over a great number of years, he has always conducted himself in a most professional manner, been extremely quick, precise and very informative about all legal matters to hand. He will be sorely missed”

Village halls and similar rural community buildings are owned and managed by volunteers, many of those buildings have a long history often having been donated to the community by a local landowner or they are ex-School and church buildings. Sometimes there are perceived and real complications with Parish Councils. As a result hall committees often don’t understand their legal structure and documents or they need advice on making changes, registering the hall as a charity or registering title at the Land Registry. Jonathan has dealt patiently with every scenario either directly with the hall committee or by providing sound guidance to the ACRE Network advisers.

Jonathan has always been available by telephone and email to answer all types of queries and sometimes just to provide reassurance that the correct advice has been given to a hall committee reaping benefit for ACRE’s information and advice service to its Network of village hall advisers.

His workshops and one to one surgeries were a regular feature at the annual Training Events and the 2016 event was no exception. He took all the advisers ‘Back to basics’ finishing with a typical “…..check with them (the hall committee) that they have full details of the title ownership of the village hall premises. You may find a can of worms!”

ACRE Network Adviser, Louise Beaton, has sent the following note the sentiment of which will be recognised by all.

“As village hall advisers we are often faced with charity governance or property issues which require interpretation of old legal documents or the need to diffuse tense situations before they get out of control. It has therefore been immensely reassuring to have access to his wise counsel, to be able to explain a situation knowing that he will understand the nature of the organisations we work with, and to carry on with clear guidance (“tell them they mustn’t do that!”). He has stiffened our backbone when dealing with the barrack-room lawyers – and even real lawyers with commercial backgrounds – who confuse and fetter community initiative with spurious knowledge; he has understood the situations we are faced with and trained us to deal with them, all the while building our confidence; He has helped find common sense solutions for the real-life situations that volunteers leading charities face; He has unravelled complex legal situations and found a sensible path forward; He has helped charities avoid unnecessary expense. And where would trustees of village halls be without all the Model Documents he has written, and re-written as society and legislation has changed.

All this has been done with an unassuming manner, a great deal of patience and wry good humour – while being admirably abrupt with the overbearing!

Jonathan helped us at Action in Rural Sussex move forward some tricky situations among communities: His attendance at a meeting between “opposing factions” was guaranteed to produce an outcome, because he has the knack of talking in a way that makes the opposition listen and listening in a way that encourages everyone to speak, and of discussing the options in a considered way while making it clear that there really are no other options”

More recently, and always looking to the future, Jonathan has been working with ACRE on a consultation to consider whether village halls could or should become Community Benefit Societies. This is a detailed piece of work which Jonathan has indicated he wishes to stay involved with. He also tells us that he will be on hand for the foreseeable future in a volunteer capacity so we look forward to keeping in touch.

So a huge personal thank you to Jonathan for his dedication to ACRE and the Network and very best wishes for his retirement.

Finding someone to step into Jonathan’s shoes is impossible, but ACRE is pleased to have entered into an agreement with Bates Wells and Braithwaite who will offer some pro bono support to ACRE and a legal advice service for village halls.