A local community group has expressed disappointment at the Charity Commission’s decision to approve plans that will allow a charity to lease its grade II listed building to the county council so it can be used as a registry office.
Newark and Sherwood District Council is the sole trustee of the Gilstrap Charity, which runs and maintains the Gilstrap Centre in Newark, a former public library that houses the Newark Tourist Information Centre and other facilities.
The building was gifted to the people of Newark by William Gilstrap in 1883 and was registered with the commission in 1964. In 1990 the commission approved changes to the charity’s objects, allowing the building to be used as an educational centre.
According to Newark and Sherwood District Council, the Gilstrap Charity has struggled financially in recent years and was saved from operating at a deficit only by financial contributions from the council.
The council therefore proposed that its building should be sold to Nottinghamshire County Council, which would use it as a registry office.
But the plans attracted strong objections from the public. Allan Towler, chair of Friends of Newark Castle and Gardens, a local volunteer group, said that a petition by the Save the Gilstrap campaign group received more than 3,000 signatures in objection to the council’s plans.
After a public consultation, the council changed its proposals and agreed to the building being leased to Nottinghamshire County Council for seven years rather than being sold.
On 5 March the Charity Commission approved a scheme to change the charity’s objects and allow the district council to sell or lease the building.
Towler said local people were very disappointed by the commission’s decision. "We are very disappointed it has gone ahead despite all the protests from us and from members of the Gilstrap family," he said.
Towler said local people objected to changes that would have to be made to the building so it could function as a registry office. "They are going to do modifications to the building," he said. "We don’t think its right."
He added: "We understand the position the council was in; it had to raise money to preserve the building. We do think, though, there were better answers."
Ivor Walker, chair of Newark and Sherwood District Council’s general purposes committee, which acts as the charity's board, said: "As chairman of the trustees, I am pleased that the decisions taken by the committee have been vindicated and that the commission believe we have nothing but the charity’s best interests at heart. This lease will better serve the charity financially and the revenue received will be put to good use."
A council spokesman said the Gilstrap building would be leased to Nottinghamshire County Council from the beginning of April and opened as a registry office in May. He said the revenue from the lease would be paid to the charity.
Under the commission’s terms, any proposals to lease or sell the building in the future must be put out to public consultation.