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A Brief History

In 1866 the ‘Enclosure of the Waste Lands of the parish of East Meon which are situated in the parish of Steep’ took place. On the map annexed to the Award of the Valuer, the ‘allotment gardens,’ in what we now call Ridge Common Lane, Church Road and Sandy Lane, were shown and these were awarded to the Churchwardens and Overseers of the poor as allotments for the labouring poor of the parish. (History of the Ownership of the Steep Allotment Gardens. PC)

At that time William Henry Hawker was the Curate of Steep and he and his wife, Eugenie, lived in Ashford Lodge. According to Steep’s Historical Society, they seemed ‘to be an energetic and dynamic force who lived in Steep at a time when major changes took place in the locality’. William was a keen naturalist and much concerned with the welfare of the poor. Steep was part of the parish of East Meon but in 1867 it was made a separate parish and William was appointed as Steep’s first vicar. In his time here, land was put aside for the building of a new school which was finished in 1875; three parcels of land were enclosed and put in trust as allotment sites for the labouring poor; improvements were made to the church and the vicar and his wife donated some of their own estate for the building of almshouses. Unfortunately he died quite young in 1874, leaving others to complete the work he had started.

The Local Government Act of 1894 established elected Parish Councils in rural areas and Steep Parish Council took over responsibility for the three allotment sites. Over the years needs changed and the sites were little used for allotments. Part of the Sandy Lane site was used to accommodate the new A3 Petersfield bypass. In 2010 the Parish Council, concerned by the need for affordable housing, proposed that the site in Church Road could be used for this. Villagers however proposed having allotments on the site. The Charity Commission confirmed that only those who were ‘ labouring poor’ could be given allotments as this land was owned by a charitable trust. The Parish Council found a conflict of interest between their position as elected councillors representing the community and their duty as trustees of the charity.

In the Parish Council minutes of September 2010, reported in the Steep and Stroud Newsletter, it was said that ‘Concern had been expressed that the public would not make a distinction between the Council acting as a local authority and, separately, as Trustees of the charity’. However it was clear that their duties in the two capacities were different and that their first duty as Trustees was to the objects of the Charity and not to the general community interest.’ This conflict of interest was discussed in Parish Council meetings and the chairman reported in July 2011 that the PC had resolved to ‘set up a body of independent trustees to take on the task of deciding what should be done to make best use of these pieces of land.’

Volunteers from the local area were sought and Trustees appointed. At their first meeting in 2011 an application was made for registration as a charity. In July 2012 the Charity Commission made an order confirming the appointment of the new Trustees and also transferring the legal title of the three sites from the Parish Council to the official Custodian for Charities.

In their minutes of June 2013 the Trustees revealed that despite enquiries to individuals and organisations involved with social need, they had found little desire amongst the ‘labouring poor’ of Steep for allotments and that this terminology was outdated. The Trustees hoped to be able to widen the scope of their charitable objects but in the minutes of May 2014 it was reported that the Charity Commission stated that they must adhere to the concept of the original objects and that these would likely be ‘the prevention and relief of poverty for the public benefit among persons who are in need, hardship or distress in the parish of Steep and the adjoining area.’ (This last part was included because in 1866 when the three pieces of land were enclosed, Steep had been part of a larger parish and to avoid any confusion over boundaries.) In order to be able to fulfil these objects the Trustees considered that they needed also to include the power of sale.

The Charity Commission then proposed a scheme (a legal document) for the Charity and gave formal notice of its display open for public consultation for one month. Thereafter, on 23rd October 2015, the Steep In Need Charity (SIN) 1172000 was confirmed.

The Trustees decided that the Sandy Lane site adjacent to the A3 bypass should be sold. This was advertised by Jacobs and Hunt for sale by Informal Tender and was sold shortly afterwards.

Although there were only sufficient funds for small donations it was decided the Trustees should plan to make some grants. In order to do so it was agreed that there should be consultations with the churches, schools, and local CABs. In due course two donations were given to Steep School‘s Premium Pupil Fund to help specific pupils in financial need.

In 2017 the South Downs National Park local plan was put forward for public consultation.  It became clear that the site on Ridge Common Lane would not be available for development and as it was only producing, spasmodically, a low grazing rent. The Trustees decided to consider putting the site up for sale.

RECORD OF RELEVANT ITEMS PUBLISHED IN THE STEEP AND STROUD NEWSLETTER

The Steep in Need Charity was formally established in October 2015, but meetings of Trustees have been recorded since 2011. Items about the new charity have been published in the Steep and Stroud newsletter ever since.

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