At Large: The one-time jousting knights are set to be Tuscan neighbours

Plus: Sector honours continue downwards; charities under fire in Oz; end of a legal era at the commission; and no more support for over-40 virgins in Denmark

Etherington (left) and Bubb: now the best of friends
Etherington (left) and Bubb: now the best of friends

Time was when the two knights of the voluntary sector, Sir Stuart Etherington of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Sir Stephen Bubb, formerly of Acevo, couldn't live with each other - disagreement was the order of the day. Now it's beginning to look as if they can't live without each other either: Etherington bought a retreat in Italy some years ago; now Bubb is negotiating the purchase of a small villa just down the road. "A minicharity hub in the Tuscan hills!" breezes Bubbles. "Will the wine stocks hold up?" Etherington is more downbeat, pointing out that the purchase is not yet settled. But if all goes to plan, they'll soon be chuntering at each other in Italian at the local trattoria.

If you sensed a drop in the number of people honoured for services to charity in the 2018 New Year Honours, you'd be right. The Cabinet Office gives a percentage of those recognised for "work in their communities either in a voluntary or paid capacity", and this year it was 70 per cent. That's down from 74 per cent last year and 76 per cent the year before. A sign of the times - charities under a cloud? Let's see if they drop into the sixties next year.

Opposition to campaigning by charities is a familiar undercurrent in UK politics, but it has burst to the surface in Australia: the Liberal government has appointed Gary Johns as full-time commissioner at the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. He was a minister in the Labor government in the 1990s, but has since moved rightwards and now argues that charities should not be allowed to advocate for changes in government policy. Andrew Leigh of the Labor opposition has compared the appointment to putting Dracula in charge of a bloodbank: "They think charities are OK as long as they are running soup kitchens, but once they start talking about poverty and inequality they're overstepping the mark." Now which UK MPs could he be talking about? Answers on a postcard ...

The end of an era approaches with the announcement that Kenneth Dibble will retire as legal director of the Charity Commission in March after 14 years in the top job and another 26 as an in-house lawyer. He has been in the thick of momentous events, including the passage of the Charities Act 2006, viewed as the biggest shake-up for 400 years. When the bill was being drawn up, the then charities minister, Ed Miliband, apparently began referring to him as "Pope Kenneth" because of his infallibility on the mysteries of charity law. We await his farewell encyclical. Dibble's influence will not be entirely lost, of course, because he is to become one of the two legally qualified members of the commission's board.

News from Denmark of an intriguing change of charitable purpose: Linnemanns Jomfrukloster was founded in 1856 to help "single, in need and worthy virgins" over the age of 40. But the virginity requirement has been removed. "There are not many virgins over 40 in Denmark," Josee Linnemann, a descendant of the founder, Andreas, is quoted as saying. "We didn't check them medically, but it was difficult to fulfil the conditions of the foundation." Those Scandinavians, eh?

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