There has been a series of articles and TV news revealing some of the problems surrounding Blake’s Cottage. It is a relief, though no joy. This project was born like a happy one, and one that would honour William Blake. The murk and gloom that has tainted it so was never called for.
It is essential that people know what they know now: that the Cottage is in disrepair and there is no money to fix it. But people must be aware too of why it is in disrepair: because we, the people who started this appeal, promised to create a large consortium of responsible, capable and accountable individuals and organisations to continue the fund-raising and care for the Cottage, yet, instead of that, Tim Heath, Chair of the Blake Society, bullied out his fellow campaigners, kept the Blake Society in the dark and set up in secret an illegitimate trust of only three people with no capacity to run the project, but with a great talent for dishonesty.
Therefore it is important to stress this: that people should NOT give even a single pound more to the Blake Cottage Trust. I have written before in this blog about their baffling financial statements, seriously inconsistent and in which there is money missing.
We started this project receiving with great gratitude all donations, big and small, and honouring every single pound given to the Blake Society out of love for Blake, and trust in us. I counted many of those pounds myself, deposited cash and cheques in the bank… neither donors, the Big Blake Project leading the appeal in West Sussex, nor myself, did what we did with such care, punctiliousness and love to be then betrayed by a handful of unscrupulous people.
The Cottage should be in the hands of people with integrity, who are transparent and accountable, and the Blake Cottage Trust is none of that.
I believe that it is an appropriate moment to remind the public, the press and authorities of the mess the Blake Society, then the Blake Cottage Trust, have made of their plans for Blake’s Cottage. It should leave no doubts that these people are not to be trusted, and that they lack the most essential skills and professionalism to set up a project of any kind. Let’s try to do this, with the following timeline.
- The Blake Society launches a campaign to acquire William Blake’s Cottage and turn it into a centre of creation for artist and writers, and to bestow the Cottage to the nation. It would be open to the public several days a week. Our centre of creation included having in the programme a House of Refuge for persecuted writers. For that part of the project we (me and the Blake Society’s Chair, Tim Heath) invited English PEN, who were delighted with the idea. This was as early as 2013, way before the Cottage appeal was officially launched. We invited several other institutions and individuals to be part of the project. The idea was to engage with people with the appropriate experience, and with the integrity, professionalism and accountability indispensable for such a project. There are more documents and blog entries in this webpage that talk about this in more detail.
- The fruits of the work created in the Cottage would be shared with the public through the web set in place by the proposed Consortium, in galleries, universities and other venues nation-wide and, when possible, internationally. There would also be small (given the dimensions of the Cottage) exhibitions, talks and concerts in the building itself.
- In 2014 the campaign is launched, unequivocally as a Blake Society project and with the aims mentioned above. In the midst of the campaign Mr Heath starts incurring in extremely unethical behaviour and appropriation of the project. He bullied me (the person who, along with him, was leading the appeal within the Blake Society) out of the Society and the project. He did the same with the Big Blake Project, leading the local leg of the campaign. He leaves the Blake Society Committee completely in the dark about what he’s doing and sets up in secret an illegitimate organism, the Blake Cottage Trust, composed of only three people and chaired by himself. The Blake Society Committee is outraged but they panic when they see I’m willing to speak out and contact the Charity Commission. They wash their hands off the problem and ever since, both the BS and the BCT claim the Cottage was never a Blake Society project.
- In early 2015 the campaign has failed, but the Chair goes on to secure a big amount of money on his own and the Cottage is acquired in September 2015.
- From then and up to this day, the Blake Cottage Trust has never made public any record of decision making, nor a consistent, detailed and serious plan for the project.
- As soon as the Cottage is acquired, the original project is disowned: The Blake Society calls for ideas from the public. I contact the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust to remind them that there exists a project already, that took us much work and care to set up – the project people gave their money and support for. The document I sent them can be found in this webpage. It is ignored, all they tell me is that our original project is “not a binding commitment”, which I find worrying, since that was what people gave their money and support for.
- After acquiring the Cottage, the Blake Cottage Trust doesn’t contact anymore people who had been invited to the consortium, and who supported the campaign.
- The Blake Cottage Trust starts to qualify the original project by telling the press that “One idea is to let it out to people who would love to stay in William Blake’s cottage, to sleep in Blake’s bed. . . It could be a place where people come to think about what they could be doing with their lives. It wouldn’t be exclusive. Part of the year it could be let out to people who would pay a premium to inhale Blake, and that would subsidise others like artists and musicians looking for respite and refuge.”
- I and other campaigners worry that the project is taking this shape – that of a literary bed and breakfast, not what the public had supported at all. We raise our concerns and are ignored.
- By January 2016 the original project has been completely blanked out. At the Blake Society’s AGM that month, the Chair didn’t mention anything about it at all, and went on to say that “Paradoxically, the campaign to secure the home of one of England’s greatest visionaries succeeded through its lack of vision – each person could project onto the project their own view of Blake, and could place in the Cottage their own imagination of a literary house.” This is an insult both to those of us who created the project for the Cottage, and to all those who supported that project. It is also a rather serious lie. Some of us try to object to this at the AGM and are ignored. The Chair’s false claims are repeated in their minutes.
- The Blake Cottage Trust keeps quiet for months, their webpage mostly blank, giving no information to the public whatsoever about what their real project is, while the Cottage keeps on deteriorating. Then they make some statements to the press, and add something to their blog, stressing as their main object now to create a visitor centre on the premises after demolishing the 20th Century annexe to the Cottage, and, again, to privilege “paying guests” above the original project: artists will be in the Cottage “while it is not being occupied by paying guests.”
- I object to this and the Blake Cottage Trust finds out that there will be an article appearing in The Sunday Times in August 2016. Only then do they deign to add to their webpage something in the way of an explanation of what they want to do. The article itself quotes them talking about paying guests.
- I object to that in this blog, saying that we didn’t create the campaign in order to end up with a Blakean Bed and Breakfast. The day after the article is published they delete from their webpage all mention about paying guests and for the first time seem to be acknowledging the original plan. Worryingly though, they say it is not going to be a B&B, but: a “dream-catcher”, and go on to add: “William Blake was a visionary – he dreamed dreams and saw visions. So to fully appreciate the visionary secrets of the Cottage, you will indeed be able ask [sic] to wake in Blake’s bedroom.” . . . “So, yes, every home should be a gallery, and every room a place of creation and procreation – Blake’s Cottage especially so.”
- Later on they added an update to the project, riddled with lies that I have highlighted earlier in this blog and say that “Firstly, we want to encourage people to visit the Cottage on open days and experience the working of an exact replica of Blake’s original Eighteenth Century Wooden Rolling Press. Secondly, we want to invite artists & poets to visit, stay, be inspired by, and work in the Cottage. We also want to use the new visitor centre for public events, workshops and exhibitions.” This is the first time in over a year that they deign to mention in their webpage anything similar to the original plan, though now they have different priorities and are also avoiding to mention their scheme of paying guests and are still offering no concrete, professional proposal. It should be stressed again that the information that they have been adding to, and deleting from, their blog, has changed by the day according to the objections to their work, or lack of it, appearing in this blog, in the press and in the blog of another campaigner.
- Finally, in the articles published in the national press earlier this week, Mr Heath makes extraordinary claims, in an extraordinary language. First, that “the property will be turned into a shrine by 2027”, when originally we had thought it would take some three years, five at the most to be opened to the public, and it was purchased in 2015. Then, “People who follow visionary paths need support” … “The cottage gives them a place of refuge where we give back to those rare people. Those very special voices, they need help, they need support. It is a place where people can go for a few days’ respite, where they can pursue their vision. Those people are on the periphery of society, so they need some structure to encourage the next great William Blake, the next great David Bowie, the next great Leonard Cohen. In a thousand years time, when we look back, will this petty dispute about the roof of the cottage be remembered? Or will the magnificent voices that come out of the cottage in the next ten years?”
I hope that donors to the appeal, the general public, the press and all relevant authorities realize that this time-line shows a worrying degree of lack of seriousness and capability to run the project, as well as great contempt for truth. The large, professional and accountable consortium that we promised to create would have the capacity not only to carry out further fund-raising, but also of implementing the project and inviting to the Cottage serious and committed artists, authors and thinkers within the framework of a clearly articulated programme. We wanted to have in the consortium honest people and organisations who are seriously committed to their work, with an impeccable record of integrity and accountability.
We never promised to the public that we would allow an illegitimate Trust of only three men, imposed by Mr Heath, who have been incapable so far to spell out what they are planning to do with any consistency since they acquired the Cottage over a year ago, to pick up what they consider “people who follow visionary paths” “from the periphery of society” so that they can “sleep in Blake’s bed” for “creation and procreation” or any such nonsense.
Talk about what the Blake Cottage Trust’s legacy will be “in a thousand years’ time” is also disturbing. We were aiming at something humbler, and also more true and respectful of donors, the public, members of the Blake Society and all the people who made an effort to contribute to the appeal. I have no idea whether if there will still be human life in this planet in a thousand years’ time. I do know though that the Blake Cottage Trust has had the Cottage in its hands for the much more human time-scale of a year and three months, during which it has allowed it to go into disrepair, has proved to be utterly inefficient and, graver still, has done nothing but lie, manipulate, bully people and make significant amounts of money disappear from their muddled financial statements.
Surely Blake deserves better than this.
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