What are the Great Torrington Almshouse, Town Lands and Poors Charities?

These charities originated in the 17th century from benefactions by the great and good of Torrington.  Over the centuries public-spirited people have given some of their private fortunes to be used for the benefit of those in need of help.  By 1970 the number of charities involved had increased to 22 but in 1971 these were reduced to three by amalgamation.  The Trustees' 'Bible' is a manual entitled 'A Scheme' (1971) which gives instructions on how the Trusts and Trustees are to operate.

There are 15 people on the present Board of Trustees: the vicar of the parish church (ex officio), four representatives of the Town Council who are appointed for four years, and ten other co-opted Trustees who are appointed for five years.  The criterion for being a Trustee is to have a specific knowledge of, or interest in, Torrington and candidates are suggested by the existing Board of Trustees.  Their suitability is then debated and they are selected by the Board.

The Trustees meet monthly to determine all matters.  They have contact with the Town Council but operate entirely independently.  They are responsible for a considerable amount of investment in the stock market and in property.  The Trust owns around 40 properties in the town, both commercial and domestic, as well as several acres of land.  The accounts of the Trust are very complicated and are audited by chartered accountants for ultimate approval by the Charity Commission.

Torrington people are favoured when it comes to choosing tenants for the many properties owned by the Trust, including the eight almshouse flats in New Street which recently underwent a £300,000 refurbishment.

On the second Friday in December each year there is an annual distribution of the fund for the sick and aged at the Plough Arts Centre.  In excess of 500 people attend and in 2015 those who were eligible received £15 per household.

The Trustees receive many requests for funding. These are all considered with the circumstances of the individual being taken into account.  Grants totalling up to £60,000 are given annually to various organisations in the town for upkeep and maintenance, such as the parish church, the town hall, the Plough, the town band, scouts, guides, playgroups, chapels, etc.  As well as giving aid to the elderly who are struggling financially, help is also sometimes given to young people for educational or training purposes.

Chris Styles was Steward and Receiver for the Trust for over 40 years in charge of the day-to-day management of all affairs with direct responsibility to the Trustees until his death in 2012.  When I spoke to him, I suggested that it must be very rewarding to be able to distribute largesse to deserving local people and causes.  He agreed that they derive great satisfaction from doing good for the town and that the Trust is like local government used to be, 'compassionate and people-orientated'.  Ian Newman is now Steward to the Trustees.

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