UPDATE of 22 September: After writing the post below I have looked into the Blake Society’s financial report to the Charity Commission this year. You may find it interesting to see that their report’s “independent examiner” is Dr Nick Duncan, who is, in fact, a Blake Society Trustee. The report is signed April 2016. In an email to me of May 2016 Dr Duncan told me he had recently been co-opted back in the Committee (where he had served a few years ago). This doesn’t seem too independent to me, particularly given the current irregularities in the handling of the Blake Society.
You may also find it interesting to know that the 2015 financial report of the “Anonymous donor” in the Charity Commission’s website shows a donation of £100,00 to the Blake Society. The BS does not mention this donation to the public. There is only mention of a sum of £400k given to the Blake Cottage Trust. All very confusing, isn’t it? It gets worse. Please read on.
In my blog of 5 September I mention rather obvious false information in the Blake Cottage Trust’s recently published Report and Financial Statements.
Yet I knew there was more in their report that was not right – the figures simply didn’t make sense – so I have now put all the information I have together.
As stated before, though after another Blake Society Trustee’s brief involvement it was Mr Heath (the Blake Society chairman) and myself alone who were running the campaign within the Society, he withheld much information from me, and never allowed me access to the Just Giving and Indiegogo financial statements, that he only showed to the Treasurer days before our AGM on January 2015, so regarding those two platforms and other donations he got I have only his word to go by.
Even so, figures don’t add up. It is incredibly difficult to point at the mess of the Cottage’s financial information in a comprehensible manner, so I have opted for a timeline:
- On 20 January 2015 Mr Heath sent an email to me and the Blake Society Treasurer saying that we had raised £106,308, though £42,500 was in pledges only. The Fundraising Summary was: HeritageLottery Fund £10,000; Sainsbury’s Fund £25,000 (pledge); BDB lawyers £17,500 (pledge); West Sussex CC £10,000; Indiegogo crowdfunding £ 3,788; JustGiving £23,325; Patron £10,000; Cheques & Cash to Blake Society £ 6,695. Please note that all the above were donations made to the Blake Society, and he was referring to them as such to the Blake Society’s Secretary and Treasurer.
- In the same email Mr Heath mentions the donation of cash & cheques directly to the BS compiled by myself with a total of £6,695 that required auditing.
- On 21 January I sent my record of those donations to Mr Heath and the BS Treasurer. They may have got their Excel Auto Sum wrong, the fact is that the total is one of £7,877. It is impossible to know whether if they amended this in view of the chaos that ensued, as you will see below.
- I don’t know if the above figures include or not the over £20,000 (exact sum to be confirmed) raised directly by the Big Blake Project, since Mr Heath did not even mention them in his reports.
- Thus far we had, from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Sainsbury’s Fund, BDB Lawyers and West Sussex CC a total of £62,500, all these clearly donated to the Blake Society before the Blake Cottage Trust actually existed. Please keep this in mind, as the inconsistency will be clear below.
However, before I get there, there are a few other baffling bits of financial information:
- In Mr Heath’s email of 4 March 2015, when he wrote to me after I had already left the Blake Society, to say that the Cottage appeal had failed, he said (I quote): “A sum of £107k was raised in donations and contingent pledges of which £60k was received in cash, out of which legal, surveying and campaign costs will need to be paid. [ . . .] The remaining funds will be transferred to The Blake Cottage Trust.”
- In Mr Heath’s email of 21 September 2015 to let me know that, after all, the Cottage had been purchased, he said that “Over half a million pounds was raised”. The same was stated in the Indiegogo crowdfunding page for the appeal.
- At the AGM in January 2016, the Treasurer’s Report read: “During the course of the year the Society exceptionally continued to handle donations for the purchase of Blake’s cottage in Felpham, pending the formal setting–‐up of the Blake Cottage Trust (BCT).” This is weird. The Chair set up the Blake Cottage Trust in October 2014. It is true that he did that all by himself, with his lawyers standing in for him and hiding from all of us in the Blake Society Committee and in the Cottage appeal. But I found out he had done so in September 2015 and informed other BS Trustees about it, and the Chair himself at last claimed that the BCT had been set up at the beginning of that year, so why was the Blake Society holding more money for them? Who in the Committee knew, when, that the BCT had been set up long ago, and why were they in the extraordinary situation of not having that clear?
- The Treasurer continued in his AGM report: “£146,404 was added to the £18,761 already held in this separate restricted account. After deducting legal and other expenses incurred on its behalf, £139,055 was passed over to the BCT during the accounting period.”
- We of course want to see a summary of those significant expenses, and of how and when which amounts exactly were held by the Blake Society then passed on to the Blake Cottage Trust, because these statements seem to be conflicting or, at the very least, rather blurred.
- The Chair’s report at the same AGM reads: “It is indeed a miracle that the Blake Community raised over half a million pounds to buy Blake’s Cottage. . . . For those who enjoy numbers, the campaign raised £510,000; the Cottage was purchased for £495,000.
- At the AGM Mr Heath said that an anonymous Trust had given £400,000 (the same sum their financial statement claims). It would seem to me then that, in accordance with the Treasurer’s report, we should be talking about £565,165 pounds raised (this includes the £146,404 added to the £18,761 already held by the BS reported by its Treasurer), minus deduction of legal and other expenses bringing a total of £539,055, not £510.000.
Then we move forward to the Blake Cottage Trust’s Report and Financial Statements published in their webpage on the wake of the Sunday Times article published earlier this month. In that document they claim:
“With considerable assistance from the Blake Society the trust succeeded in raising £479,419 which together with a loan of £19,250 was enough to purchase Blake’s Cottage…”.
- To start with, as I said in my former blog-post, this is a false statement. The BCT did not raise money “with considerable assistance from the Blake Society”. Apart from the £400k raised by them, secretly, after the campaign had failed, the rest of the money had been raised by the Blake Society and the Big Blake Project. The Blake Cottage Trust did not even exist then.
- Most worryingly, significant amounts of money are not even being mentioned in their report. A first pertinent question regarding these inconsistencies is, How did £165,165 raised by the Blake Society become £79,419? Over £85k seem to have vanished here.
- Or, if we refer to the Chair’s own report at the AGM earlier this year, that, as we have seen, does not quite match the Treasurer’s, how did £510,000 become the £498,669 that the added above figures in the BCT’s statement make up? (Over £11k vanished).
- Now let’s look at their breakdown of the Blake Cottage Trust’s accounts (I’ve downloaded their document, just in case they decide to change it after I publish this): apart from the main £400k donation, what calls my attention here is: Sainsbury Monument Fund 25,000; Heritage Lottery Fund 10,000; West Sussex County Council 10,000; BDB Lawyers 15,250 (less than previously stated).
- This is a total of £60,250, to which they sum up £19,065 as a mysterious various, giving a total of £79, 315. I am not sure if that “various” means Mr Heath’s loan, in itself problematic, of £19,250. To this they add the £400k of the big donor. That gives their total of donations of £479,315.
- As I also stated in my former blog post, and is now clear for all, having shown you the Blake Society’s accounts reported by its Chair to the Treasurer and me, then Secretary, it is a fraudulent statement to make the above mentioned donations appear as if they were made to a Blake Cottage Trust that was then non-existent, when they were clearly made to the Blake Society. I don’t think that the organisations who gave that money would be happy with this manipulation of information (and in fact the Heritage Lottery Fund recently confirmed to me in writing that they made a donation to the Blake Society alone, never to a Blake Cottage Trust). Due clarification as to what was raised by the Blake Society and the Big Blake Project should be a prominent part of the BCT’s financial statements.
- Equally important is a meticulous clarification, so far lacking, as to where and how have the Blake Society’s and the Blake Cottage Trust’s financial activities regarding the Cottage appeal overlapped.
- Even more serious is the fact that there is money missing in the BCT’s breakdown of accounts. Where are the following amounts? Indiegogo crowdfunding £ 3,788; JustGiving £23,325 (this includes a donation by the BS President); Patron £10,000 and the Cheques & Cash to the Blake Society, reported as £ 6,695 though they were actually £7,877?
- We are talking here of £44,990, raised by the Blake Society, that the Blake Cottage Trust is choosing not to mention in their report.
- This money that they are choosing to disregard, to hide away, to make vanish, is the one that probably most honours Blake, and that would have given him most joy: every single pound, painstakingly gathered, given by over 700 generous people who reached in their pockets to give what they could because they loved his work, and believed us when we said the Cottage would belong to all.
I think the public may be forgiven if they find all these conflicting figures and acts of prestidigitation rather puzzling.
It seems that Accounting Figures Limited, the company that oversaw this report, in fact overlooked quite a few things.
I ask the Blake Cottage Trust and the Blake Society yet again, what is going on here?
Please read my former blog post, where I ask the same question regarding their change of expressed plans for the Cottage according to what concerns I or the press raise publicly. As a reminder: after the Cottage was purchased the BS and BCT disowned the original project, mentioned to the press the plan of renting out rooms and ignored completely all the concerns raised by myself and many others. At the AGM last January, they were still disowning that project and the Chair went on to make this extraordinary, and utterly false, statement, reproduced in their minutes: “Paradoxically, the campaign to secure the home of one of England’s greatest visionaries succeeded through its lack of vision”.
Then the Chair was contacted by the Sunday Times a few days prior to the publication of their article. The Chair realized this was going to get to the national press so deigned, for the first time since the Cottage was acquired, a year ago this month, to tell the public about the BCT’s plans. They at last included the house for creation for artists and authors that we had envisioned, though making it clear that their main financial plan was still to rent out rooms and that artists would be admitted when there were not paying guests. I objected to that plan in this blog, and concerns were raised in the ST article itself, quoting from the BCT’s very webpage, so the day after the article was published the BCT changed its webpage again. Now the paying guests are nowhere to be seen.
I can hardly keep up with the Blake Cottage Trust’s changes of information in their webpage according to the concerns I raise in this blog. I’m keeping screenshots but I will not engage in that game. Their duty is to tell the truth to the public and commit to transparency and honesty, not to play table tennis with their critics.
I have done more than can be humanly expected from anybody to call these matters to the attention of the public. I cannot do the job of the authorities, and I have more important things to do with my life than going on contemplating the sad landscape of mire and infamy that I’ve been forced to see from such close quarters for over two years now.
If you, reading this blog, care about Blake and the Cottage, if you were a donor, if you’re a Blake Society member, then do your bit. Demand accountability, honesty and transparency from the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust, challenge them, write to the Charity Commission, talk to the press. Do what you can so that the Cottage is in the hands of people who care, who respect Blake and the public, people committed to truth.
The Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust, run it seems through an inexhaustible capital of trickery, should not be allowed to hold William Blake hostage to their lack of scruples.