Temple's vital roles in our community...
East Ham MP Stephen Timms, this week discusses a Hindu temple which became the subject of an important test of charity law. He writes: THE old Avenue public house building still stands on the corner of Browning Road and Church Road. It wasn t a bad pub,
East Ham MP Stephen Timms, this week discusses a Hindu temple which became the subject of an important test of charity law.
THE old Avenue public house building still stands on the corner of Browning Road and Church Road. It wasn't a bad pub, but it closed down after a murder inside, and it never re-opened.
Behind it, there is a remarkable sight. There has been a Hindu temple here since the early 1980s.
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For the first twenty years it was quite a dilapidated building. Today, the Sri Murugan temple stands in gleaming granite with intricate carvings.
Completed by skilled stone masons from India and opened in 2005, it is surely Manor Park's finest building ever. I have visited often, before and since 2005, and have always been made welcome by the devotees. It is a very busy place, with visitors travelling long distances.
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Recently the temple has been the subject of an important test of charity law.
The Charities Act 2006 was hotly debated. It made big changes to how charities work. One of the most controversial was the "public interest test". To obtain the benefits of charity status, charities now have to demonstrate that their activities actually do benefit the public at large.
Previously, charities' aims - "to advance education", "advance religion" or "relieve poverty" - were presumed, by law, to be for the public benefit.
From April 1 last year, trustees have to report on their charity's public benefit when they submit their Annual Report. A lot of charities have been nervous about how the new test would work.
There has been a recent debate about the charitable status for independent schools. This was prompted by The Charity Commission's first Public Benefit Assessment Reports, for twelve charities which acted as "guinea pigs" for the test. The twelve were: five fee-charging independent schools, four charities for the advancement of religion and three fee-charging residential care charities. Eight of the twelve passed the test. One of them was the temple in Manor Park.
The report comments: "The Temple is open to all 365 days a year, within the specified opening times.
Regular religious services are held every day. Outside the regular services people can attend the Temple within the specified opening times.
In addition to religious services, the charity offers cultural and educational classes relevant to Hinduism, including scripture classes and yoga classes, and distributes religious publications to the public.
It also provides a meeting place for the elderly with the aim of alleviating isolation and loneliness, and to provide counselling and spiritual guidance.
The Temple has regular worshippers from the local and wider community, and also welcomes casual visitors. We are advised by the charity that each of the regular services attracts more than 50 people, with over 300 people attending the Friday evening services."
The public interest test was initially viewed with concern, particularly by religious organisations.
Many now, however, see it as an opportunity to highlight the positive work they do in communities, and to gain additional support.
I am pleased this example from Newham was chosen as a test case and that it has - deservedly - passed the test with flying colours.