The Funding of the Conservators
The 1888 Act laid down that the parish Vestry could agree funding for the work of the Conservators, as the Trustees were originally known. In the early years the level of funding was set at the Easter Vestry meetings and then added by the then local authority as a precept to the rate demand. This system continued into the second half of the 20 th century, when the Conservators' budget requirement was treated as a straight charge on the local authority, then the Urban District of Chislehurst and Sidcup.
In 1965, under the Greater London government reorganisation, the funding power was assumed by the London Borough of Bromley (LBB). (Under the reorganisation Chislehurst and St Paul's Cray became part of the LBB, while Sidcup became part of the London Borough of Bexley.)
In 1990 a need for economy by LBB forced the first major cuts in funding. The Conservators employed four keepers at that time and there were periods when up to six keepers worked on the Commons. The LBB took the view that it had the power to provide funding, but was not obliged to do so, and that it would not fund to any greater level than it might choose to consider appropriate.
The reduction in funding led to the reduction in the number of keepers to two and the consequence was a visible deterioration in the state of the Commons. In particular there was much less control of the growth of dense thickets of holly scrub and the spread of birch and sycamore, so that large areas of woodland were no longer open and there was a consequent lessening of biodiversity. The remaining areas of heather suffered considerably.
In 2002, at a time of particularly stringent financial constraint, the LBB responded to the Trustees' budget request for £78,000 with a vote of £31,000. After extensive negotiations this was increased to £56,000 for 2002-3. At the same time LBB's funding for the 4-year period 2003-7 was set at £41,000 per annum, with part of that amount being increased in line with inflation. LBB further agreed that over this period, the Council's funding would not be reduced if the Trustees managed to supplement their income with donations from the public.
As a result of the 2002 cut the Trustees were forced to make one of the two keepers redundant and, in order to make it possible to maintain the Commons at a reasonable level, an appeal for funds was made to local residents. In round terms £5,000 was raised as one-off donations with a further £5,000 pledged annually. At the same time, in order to augment the work of the keeper, a body of around 20 Commons Volunteers was recruited.
With costs rising and income more or less static, another appeal was launched in the spring of 2003. By 2006, the LBB grant stood at £41,164 and donations from the public totalled nearly £39,000 (this including gift aid, ie. income tax reclaimed by virtue of the Commons being a registered charity). In addition £10,000 was raised by other fund-raising efforts and small amounts in grants from the Department for the Environment and the Forestry Commission. During 2006 the Trustees drew on reserves and spent over £50,000 on various projects aimed at repairing some of the deterioration of previous years. Contractors were employed to dredge and re-embank Rush Pond, to up-grade the main footpaths and bridlepaths and to clear some areas of dense holly scrub. These improvements were widely welcomed by local people.
In 2003 the active local supporters of the Commons ? those making donations and the volunteer workers ? were constituted as the Friends of the Commons . An annual reception is organised for the Friends and they receive an occasional Commons Newsletter . The Friends now total over 400 people.
There has now been a new grant settlement with LBB for the period from April 2007 to March 2012. Bromley Borough's contribution towards the management of the Commons will be £45, 932 per annum, with no protection against inflation.
It is to be expected that income through donations from local residents will tend decline as people move away, or their circumstances change. For this reason there was another appeal to local people in the spring of 2007, which has had the effect of raising the financial support from the Friends of the Commons, including gift aid ? to nearly £51,000 for the year 2007.
This magnificent total means that we have achieved the aim set in 2003, at the time of our second appeal, to raise our income to £100,000, so that we can afford to employ a second keeper, as well as covering all our overheads and having the ability to employ contractors for projects which are beyond the capacity of our own staff and volunteers. As soon as our achievement of the target was confirmed, we took on our new Assistant Keeper, Mark Clanfield, who joins our Head Keeper, Jonathan Harvie.
Keeping the Commons for now and for the future.