A virtual visitor centre, and some questions regarding the real – Part II

In the first part of this entry I’ve asked the Blake Cottage Trust some questions that they have a public duty to respond to, as they concern their unethical practice and mismanagement in their handling of Blake’s cottage. I also commented on their bizarre display of virtual images of a future cottage that stand in painful contrast with the dire actual conditions in which the building stands now.

I also said that I’d comment on a document they have recently published in their website. I’d advise the reader to take a look at the first part of this entry as well (A virtual visitor centre… Part I).

The mentioned document is 33 pages long, it is illustrated with the same virtual-reality images that we saw in the video recently published by the Bognor Regis Observer, and it purportedly contains the architectural plans for Blake’s cottage. It contains, however, more than that: it contains baffling contradictions and statements that confirm what some of us have known for a long time: that there is no real project or vision for the use of the cottage, and that the Blake Cottage Trust  has never intended to honour the original project that donors and the public supported in such good faith.

The Blake Cottage Trust is still bent on turning it instead into some kind of literary hotel.

But let us start with the minor issues, and the odd. It called my attention, for instance, that Mr Tim Heath, the BCT’s Chair, keeps on stealing some of my words and ideas to try to articulate what the cottage might be. I’ve mentioned this before. It’s not even outrageous anymore – it is just boring, and pathetic.

I am also intrigued by their mention in page 5 of their intention of providing ” space for a small second residence for an eventual resident caretaker”:

Screenshot (36)

We should keep an eye on this. After all the instances of extraordinarily dodgy practice we have seen so far, it would be important to know who they intend to offer accommodation to in the cottage’s grounds.

The Blake Cottage Trust keeps on stating that their “intent is to bring the Cottage back as much as possible to a state that William and Catherine Blake would have recognised
when they lived and worked there between 1800 and 1803”, and that is why they plan to remove the 20th Century extension to the building and build a state-of-the-art visitor centre in its place; I therefore see myself in the need to ask again:

  • Would William and Catherine Blake have recognised a visitor centre in their garden?

This question is important because the original plan for Blake’s Cottage was to make of it a creative residence for authors, artists and thinkers that would give continuity to Blake’s dissenting imagination, and we were adamant about preserving the building’s peace, which would be conducive to creating, without the distractions of a visitor centre. The visitor centre, as anyone who has followed the wretched story of the Blake’s Cottage project knows, would be created in nearby Bognor; it would function in close collaboration with the building in Felpham, and it was an idea and contribution to the project brought by the Big Blake Project – who, as we also know, were elbowed out by Mr Heath as soon as the cottage was purchased -, while he stole this idea from them.

Later on, on page 16, we come across this near incomprehensible passage, that seems to contradict their aims stated above:

contradiction of intent

The BCT tells us then what we already know, and which is a matter of concern for many: that “The condition of the cottage is such that it is in pressing need of preservation and conservation work and general repair.” They add that “The roof has been over thatched (perhaps more than once) which has overloaded the existing roof trusses and stays, causing failure. The roof is now propped to arrest more movement.”

Those props – put in place a long time after its purchase – are, as we know, the only thing that the BCT has done for the actual building in 30 months.

They publish a couple of the many existing pictures of the awful condition of the building, manipulating them along with their text so it would seem as if they promptly set those props in place to avoid further damage. However, that is far from being the truth. In the long history of the cottage and its structural changes that they take us through in these pages – no doubt interesting – they fail to mention one important point: that when the Cottage Appeal started in 2014, though we knew that the thatched roof had damage, it wasn’t all that apparent. I know this, because I visited the building myself that year. The dismal state of disrepair and neglect that has been revealed by photographs taken this year simply wasn’t there. That is to say, that the further disrepair and neglect have all taken place during the years that the Blake Cottage Trust has been in possession of the building.

In fact, the props didn’t come in until 2016, the first time they boasted about being caring for the building, actually publishing in their own webpage a piece of news from the Bognor Observer commenting on this late intervention:

roof-supported

This means that from 2015 to October 2016 they did absolutely nothing to avoid further disrepair, and that from 2016 to this day they have done nothing more.

But things get worse. 

The Cottage Appeal started in 2014. That may be, for some, many years ago. The excess of information we’re all exposed to inevitably means that we forget much. However, I am sure that neither donors nor all those who supported our project then have forgotten that the project was one of a creative haven for artists that would also include as part of its programme a house of refuge for persecuted writers. Of course the doors would be open to the public as well; there would be exhibitions, talks, etc., and this cultural programme would be closely linked to what artists and writers created within the cottage’s walls.

If the reader has forgotten, or is curious to know, the whole story of the project has been told, step by step, in the My Testimony section in this webpage: My Testimony.

I also reminded the Blake Cottage Trust what the project was, as well as of their responsibilities, in a document I sent them shortly after the building’s purchase, in November 2015, to which they never answered: A Vision for Blake’s Cottage

In my testimony you will learn, with the aid of the provided evidence, that from the moment the cottage was acquired I have been very worried by Mr Heath’s repeated allusions to Blake’s Cottage becoming a kind of hotel according to his fancy. The Blake Cottage Trust has changed over and over again the information they give to the public about their actual plans for the building, as I have also summarized in another blog entry (https://blakecottage.com/2016/12/16/the-project-for-blakes-cottage/). They have contradicted themselves endless times; they have amended their statements depending on the concerns publicly raised by myself or other campaigners, and in the midst of this inconsistency, there has been only one constant: the Chair’s goal of opening the doors of the cottage so that people, in his own words, “can sleep in Blake’s bed”.

And this is certainly not what those of us who were involved in the campaign worked so hard for, let alone what the donors and the public supported with such generosity.

In 2016 an article in The Sunday Times mentioned my concerns about the Blake Cottage Trust’s disowning of the original project and the Chair’s intentions of turning the building into a kind of Blakean B&B. Mr Heath denied that he had any such intention (article The Sunday Times).

Now, in their latest published document, they surreptitiously go back to their vacuous, incomprehensible yet overriding wish for the future of William Blake’s Cottage. In their own words (page 5):

p. 5 Letting rooms

When they say that they “they don’t want the Cottage to be a lifeless museum”, they are simply parroting part of the original vision (a part that was essential to gain the public support for the appeal, and which owed much to my contribution to the project. In fact I was the only person who actually articulated those aspects of our vision, as can be seen in the Documents section in this webpage). However, they are perverting the original aim by immediately adding that they “will ensure that part of it can be used for short term accommodation”. So I ask:

  • According to whom the best way to stop a literary house from becoming a lifeless museum is to turn it into a small hotel?

You will see that they no longer make any distinction between the artists, researchers or “simply Blakean enthusiasts” who will have the privilege of staying over “a short weekend or a longer week”. I ask Mr Heath specifically:

  • Why is he changing his discourse again? He had said this before and I challenged him in this blog, reminding him that the project that the public supported was one of a real creative residency, and that no meaningful creative work could be achieved in a week, let alone a weekend. He therefore modified his story and begrudgingly mentioned longer creative residencies. Are we to understand by his latest statements that he’s gone back to his plans of simply having people holidaying in the cottage?
  • With which criteria are those artists or researchers going to be invited to holiday in the cottage, and what for?
  • Where is the concrete, professional project of what they have in mind when they vaguely talk about cultural activities in the visitor centre, and where is the board of trusted and accountable individuals and institutions that will oversee that?

As for how will the “simply Blakean enthusiasts” enjoy the cottage, the Blake Cottage Trust have finally spelled out their real intentions (page 20):

Letting rooms

That’s it: letting out rooms is the main purpose of the Blake Cottage Trust. They have passed the small exhibitions, concerts and talks that we would hold there in the original project (intimate given the dimensions of the building) to their sleek visitor centre, because the cottage itself will be no more than a hotel.

  • How can the Blake Cottage Trust justify spending millions of pounds in creating a flashy state-of-the-art empty visitor centre with the sole aim of having their own private hotel?
  • The idea was to preserve Blake’s Cottage. How did it become the turning of Blake’s Cottage into a hotel as a front for an empty expensive building for which there is no concrete plan or vision, and of the said empty expensive building into a front for their hotel?
  • How can they possibly have taken seriously the whimsical mantra of their Chair of letting people “sleep in Blake’s bed”, or, as he says in their webpage’s FAQ section, “So, yes, every home should be a gallery, and every room a place of creation and procreation – Blake’s Cottage especially so”?

In their document, the BCT add:

contained bedrooms

It can’t be clearer now. All the ideals, the hard work, the principles; all the beauty of the original project; all the support given by individuals and institutions; all the generosity, so many hopes to make of the cottage a place that would honour William Blake by supporting artistic and intellectual creation, have been trampled on by three men representing an illegitimate trust set up by one of them in secret, hiding from his co-campaigners and from the Blake Society, which was responsible for the appeal, in order to let out rooms and fulfill Mr Heath’s fantasies of having people sleep in Blake’s bed.

It is an unwholesome fantasy, bred by betrayal of colleagues and of public trust, misuse of funding and, needless to say, a sorrowful betrayal of everything that William Blake stood for.

I have only two more questions:

  • What right do these three men think they have to do this?

 

  • Are we, who care for Blake’s legacy, going to allow them to do it?
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