In March 2019, members of the Belsize Residents Association voted to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation. This was the culmination of work done to improve how the Association undertook its activities which in turn, followed its 2018 AGM when the membership asked the BRA Committee to set up a CIO.
The BRA was set up in the early 1970s as the Three Roads Association to oppose the Motorway Box road scheme that threatened to cut Belsize in half and damage important heritage assets. Over the past five decades, the Association sought to represent the views of the community on planning matters and local issues, especially local services. Its activities achieved significant improvements for Belsize in areas such as traffic schemes and parking controls, helping to set up a local housing co-operative, campaigning to introduce Article 4 directions, restore the Old Town Hall to community use and keep Belsize Community Library open. See a fuller history of the BRA’s work and its 40th Anniversary History Supplement here.
One overarching aim of the membership and the Committee has been to continue the spirit and purpose of the BRA within the new structure. They both also shared the reasons for wanting to set up the CIO: first, we would have a legal entity contracting for services rather than individual members. Then, we also felt we were “charitable”, in seeking to support the Arts/Culture/Heritage/Science (our classification in the Charities Commission register), through providing education/advocacy/advice/information (again from the register). This work would continue to be non-political, not-for-profit and for the general public as well as people living in the Belsize area.
We found the work to starting a CIO educational, with public bodies and advisors all kindly and freely offering us help to shape a work practice for the future. Setting up the CIO, also made the Committee look at what we do and how it should be presented, teasing out why our work is for the public good.
One of the questions asked by the Commission, was whether we were a residents’ body, in the sense of representing residential interests to a landlord or to the Council. The name Belsize Residents Association was always a little misleading, risking giving this impression. The name makes sense in that we are an association of residents seeking to make Belsize a better place. However, it may fail to show that we do this for residents, visitors, businesses and all those that have an interest in the area.
Articulating this wider benefit has been a focus as the Commission probed our application; we were able to observe that the website, newsletter and noticeboard are freely accessible; equally, where we comment on planning matters or undertake pollution monitoring, residents are putting in time for the wider community. Interestingly, using the word “Society”, making us more recognisable as an amenity body, was also scrutinised. There was some relief in March when Companies House confirmed that we could use the word ‘Society’, after answering their questions that this restricted word was being used in an acceptable way.
All was in place to proceed and on the 28th November 2018, charity number 1180842 was registered by the Charities Commission. After the vote to become a CIO at the 2019 AGM, the membership voted on and passed a motion to transfer the assets and wind up the Association with the first AGM of the Society being held immediately afterwards. From a member’s perspective, little will change; all BRA members are eligible and we hope will join the Society as members. The Trustees of the Society (five of the BRA Committee) stood for re-election and the rest of the Committee for the Society was also elected. Our activities to engage with the concerns of our residents on planning matters, local issues and local service, to organise events about the history and heritage of Belsize and to publish the newsletter and TYCT booklet, will all continue as before.