Some Questions for the Blake Cottage Trust

On the 12th of November this year I had a telephone conversation with Mr. Jonathan Mullard, who has recently joined the Blake Cottage Trust as its Secretary (he’s also the Secretary of the Blake Society).

It was a welcome change, to have someone from the BCT actually acknowledging my wish to engage in a conversation with them and voice my concerns, after six years of meeting with nothing but silence and lies to the public.

Mr. Mullard was friendly and polite, certainly another change of attitude that I celebrate. He told me about the work the BCT is planning around Blake’s cottage, and how optimistic he is about the future. He mentioned the Blake Cottage Trust’s “initiative” so that Historic England included Blake’s cottage in their Heritage at Risk register.

I have been in fact in touch with Historic England, and my understanding is that, though they are working with the BCT now with the aim of saving the cottage, the initiative was theirs, not the BCT’s. I know too that I have written to HE a few times in the past years asking them to please consider the cottage in their Heritage at Risk register and to get involved. I won’t incur in the same aproppriation of the merit of this initiative that the BCT has recently been to blame for both in their webpage and in their statements to the press, but I do believe that my concern and probably that of other people who might have also discussed this with HE in the past do reflect how much the risk the cottage is in has been in people’s minds, and that such concerns — shared by many except, it seems, the BCT itself for the past six years — has now materialised in this Historic England initiative.

Ignoring the past

There were other points in our conversation on which Mr. Mullard and I didn’t agree either. I told him I was sorry to burden him with information about the unpleasant background of corruption and mismanagement at the heart of the Blake Cottage Trust since its foundation, since he had no way of knowing about it, having joined so recently. However, I said, I firmly believed that as a new trustee, its Secretary and, it seems, spokesman, he did have a duty to know. To my surprise, he responded that he didn’t want to know; that he didn’t want to dwell on the past, he only wanted to move forward.

I find it hard to understand that someone wouldn’t want to know whether the organisation he has just joined is corrupt, when it is clear that many people have had concerns about it for quite a while. He insisted though: he’s not interested and doesn’t have time. What he said, again in a very friendly manner that I do appreciate, was that he was aware of the work I had done for the original 2014 campaign, that it would be useful to have my support, and that we needed to trust each other.

It would be of course great if we could, but I cannot trust people who have founded an organisation through fraudulent practice and who have been unaccountable and unreachable all this time. I told Mr Mullard that for the BCT to be trusted, it would need to answer satisfactorily to quite a few questions, and that I would send him a list with those questions shortly.

Take your webpage down”

At the end of our call he made an extraordinary request: that I should take this webpage off the web. I told him he was asking me to contribute to a cover-up, and that I certainly would not do it. Why was he asking me to do that? He said that this webpage “is unhelpful”. Unhelpful for what, I wonder? “Think about it”, he insisted.

It is no pleasure, believe me, to have to denounce the Blake Cottage Trust’s seemingly endless lack of ethics and accountability, but as long as they do not put right what is wrong, explain and apologise to public, donors and cottage appeal campaigners for the way they have neglected the cottage and lied blatantly, and as long as they don’t become accountable, this webpage will be on the web.

More Trustees

The Blake Cottage Trust has now officially called for five other trustees to join the four existing ones: the three “founders” who in fact aproppriated the cottage and the fruits of the campaign through fraudulent practice six years ago, and Mr Mullard, who has just joined. (It is interesting to note that only one of those five places is being reserved for a local trustee, despite the BCT’s claim in 2018 that they were actively looking for additional trustees from the local area.)

There are a few points that need to be made perfectly clear here:

  1. That they are finally opening up their tight-closed circle of mismanagement, inaccountability and corruption is not the result of a sudden illumination: it is following the recommendations of Historic England.
  2. It is wonderful to know that new trustees will finally be let in and keep an eye on the urgent repair and the future of the cottage. However, this new trust still won’t be the large consortium, including several interested organisations, that we had promised to the public in our 2014 campaign that would be running the cottage.
  3. The risk is then that these new trustees will know nothing of the original plans for the cottage, of what we promised in our campaign that we would do.
  4. Standing as they will now be on the generosity and good will of the nearly 750 donors to the original campaign and its countless supporters, and on the work of those who created the campaign along with Mr. Tim Heath —the Big Blake Project in Felpham, and myself— the new trustees will have the obligation to find out what the problems with the Blake Cottage Trust have been and make sure that they put right everything that has been wrong. They will have the obligation to ask questions and demand answers. They will have the obligation to be accountable and to report publicly how the money they receive is used. They will have the obligation to listen to the concerns of the public, most particularly the local community, and of donors and the 2014 co-campaigners.
  5. After asking questions and demanding answers, they will have to be able to issue votes of no confidence for trustees who do not deserve that confidence.

I want to believe that Blake’s cottage can still be saved, physically, which is the most urgent thing now, and that it can still become what we promised it would be all those years ago.

I am therefore asking all the new trustees, including Mr Jonathan Mullard, to please listen, to do the right thing, to steer a ship that has been sinking in most dark and troubled waters for six years in the right direction. Don’t believe that because the problems started so long ago they don’t matter. Turning a blind eye to those problems won’t make them go away, and there will still be three individuals among you who will need to become accountable for the harm they have done.

Do the right thing. Let that be your contribution to keeping William Blake’s legacy alive.

The questions

I did send Mr Jonathan Mullard my list of questions for the BCT. He acknowledged it a week later. He mentioned having been busy preparing a new press release.

The list is long and of course I know that to do whatever the BCT may want to do with them (hopefully not ignore them altogether, as they have ignored all my other communications so far) will take time. But I am worried about more BCT press releases and public statements without them having first at least shown willingness to answer to these questions, so I am now making them public. They will also be helpful, I think, for the new trustees.

These questions reflect many of the things that have gone so wrong with the Blake Cottage Trust and their handling of Blake’s cottage. I’ve added three questions (20, 21 and 36) that aren’t in the document I sent to Mr. Mullard. I hope he’ll look at those too and that we can continue our conversation, however thorny it may be, in a productive and fruitful manner. I would certainly be so relieved if, at long last, the Blake Cottage Trust could be trusted.

You can download the document in the following link, or simply read it below.

Questions to the Blake Cottage Trust

The problems with the Blake Cottage Trust start from its very foundation. The way it was created and its behaviour during the six years of its existence display a degree of dishonesty, unaccountability and incompetence that make it impossible to trust.

Its chair, Mr Tim Heath, has deliberately made it difficult to challenge it through the continuous tactics of concealing the truth and manipulating information, as well as in the very way the cottage was acquired: during the 2014 campaign led by the Blake Society and the Big Blake Project, unbeknown to the Blake Society Committee, the Big Blake Project and the trustee who, along with him, was leading the campaign as far as the BS was concerned (myself), the chair set up the Blake Cottage Trust, with his lawyers standing in for him, then named himself chairman. This was done in absolute secrecy, without consulting or informing any of his fellow campaigners or the BS Committee, and precisely at the time when his probity in the handling of the campaign and his behaviour within the Blake Society Committee were being severely questioned, putting at risk both the BS and the cottage appeal. He only let the BS Committee know when he had already done it, two months later, and he never informed the Big Blake Project. This is the first step in a clearly fraudulent move.

Then, after the campaign failed, he managed to get a big private donation and acquired the cottage, again, shrouded in secrecy. The Blake Society Committee and the Big Blake Project only found out after the purchase had taken place, through the press, FaceBook or the newsletter the chair sent to members.

Therefore, the crux of the matter is that Mr Heath acquired the cottage as a private endeavour, hidden from everyone involved in the public appeal, then tried to make it pass as a triumph of that very appeal, stealing its good name and credibility. He invited to the Trust two men who had nothing to do with the appeal,  and the three of them have behaved ever since as the owners of a private property, being completely unaccountable to public and donors.

The consequences of such fraudulent and irresponsible practices are visible in the cottage’s state of disrepair. For the BCT to merit any public trust, it would have to acknowledge and redress the harm done. It certainly has a lot to explain to the public, who supported the campaign and gave generously (we had nearly 750 donors), as well as to the original appeal campaigners, and quite a few questions to answer—far more than can be enumerated here.

I am compiling below those that I think most important.

In a recent conversation with Mr Jonathan Mullard, the new Blake Cottage Trust and Blake Society Secretary, he kindly said that he wants us to trust each other and that he hopes that I can support the BCT work. He even asked me to take my webpage off the web. He also insisted on not being interested in what has happened in the past, but in moving forward.

I would very much like to be able to support the BCT work, but to do that I need to know that it is accountable, capable of preserving Blake’s cottage and of honouring the project that people and donors supported. If I, and members of the public and donors, are to trust them, they must provide clear answers to the following questions, including evidence where relevant. Should they do so in a satisfactory manner, then I can think of supporting them and taking my blog off the web.

Further information and evidence related to the questions I am asking here are all in the said webpage, https://blakecottage.com/. There is a lot of material there, so if you need to be directed to evidence related to any specific question, please do let me know.

Questions

  1. Why did Mr Tim Heath set up the Blake Cottage Trust secretly, establishing himself as chairman and choosing single-handedly the other two Directors, without consulting or informing the other Blake Society trustee who was leading the campaign with him (myself), the rest of the Blake Society Committee, who was publicly responsible for it, or our co-campaigners in Felpham, the Big Blake Project, and why did he later lie about the date in which it was established? (The incorporation in the Registrar of Companies for England and Wales of the BCT as a private company took place on the 30th of October 2014, Mr Heath being represented by his lawyer, Mr Simon Patrick Weil. He told the BS Committee on the 9th of December that year that the BCT would be set up soon. See https://blakecottage.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/the-blake-cottage-trust-certificate-of-incorporation.pdf)
  2. Why did Mr Heath do that at the precise moment when his lack of probity regarding the cottage campaign and his behaviour within the Blake Society Committee were being questioned?
  3. Why did he decide single-handedly the terms and powers of the BCT’s incorporation as a private company, without consulting his fellow-campaigners?
  4. Among such powers, 5.22 mentions the payment of annual sums and premiums for or towards the provision of pensions for officers and employees.  Have the trustees of the BCT been receiving these payments throughout the past six years, and if so, what is the amount?
  5. Article 6 (Application of Income and Property) in the said Certificate of Incorporation mentions benefits or remunerations that can be received by Members of the charity who are not also Directors. Does the BCT have any such members; if so, have they been receiving any such benefits or remunerations, and if so, how much has been paid and what for?
  6. Article 6.4 mentions the kinds of benefits, fees, interest, rent for premises or remuneration that the charity Directors may receive. Have any of the Directors received any such payments during the past six years, and if so, of how much and what for? Can they show the relevant documents to support this?
  7. Why Article 22.3 states that the maximum number of Directors shall be nine, when we had agreed within the Blake Society Committee that, with its eleven Trustees, it was too small to run the cottage, and the same was told to the Blake Society members?
  8. Can the BCT explain clearly what their Indemnity clause (article 36) mean? Does it mean that a Director that incurs any liability for negligence, default, breach of duty or breach of trust will actually be indemnified by the Trust?
  9. Which of the recommendations for the running of the cottage that I left with Mr Heath when I finally stepped down from the appeal, close to nervous breakdown because of the bullying I had been subject to and the impossibility to explain to public and donors what was happening, since he was withholding all information from me, despite my being publicly responsible for it and donations along with him and the BBP, has the BCT followed, apart from its connection with the National Trust (which I know it has)?
  10. One of those recommendations was the recording of decision-making, for the sake of transparency. Has the Blake Cottage Trust records of its decisions for the past six years? If they do, and in view of the concerns about their accountability, will they make them public?
  11. What (if anything) did the BCT tell the other people and organisations we had invited to be part of the consortium to run the cottage, including the Tate, English PEN, Chichester University, Enitharmon Press and several individuals, when the cottage was purchased? [English PEN had no news; another individual contacted me later to say she had never heard from anyone related to the project again.]
  12. Are they contacting these people and organisations again six years later, and if so, how are they explaining to them the interruption of communication and work?
  13. What were the conditions, if any, of the Basil Larsen Charitable Trust for the donation that made the acquisition of the cottage possible?
  14. The Big Blake Project were invited by Mr Heath to be fellow campaigners in the cottage appeal. They worked very hard for around a year and a half and raised a significant amount of money. Why were they elbowed out and treated like enemies and as “a pressure group” when the cottage was acquired?; why Mr Heath didn’t “allow” the BBP’s chair, Mrs Rachel Searle, to talk with the other trustees, Mr Michael Philips and Mr Peter Johns, when the BBP was still campaigning with the Blake Society? Why were Mrs. Searle’s concerns, including those of the need to do repairs to the cottage, ignored?
  15. Why when the cottage was bought Mr Heath didn’t allow journalists access to the Big Blake Project, and why in the press he made sure that only him was mentioned as the leader of the campaign, without acknowledging the work of the Big Blake Project or my own?
  16. Why, after the cottage was purchased, members of the Big Blake Project were denied access to the cottage and, when some of its members asked for at least the chance to visit, they were refused and told to wait for an open day?
  17. Why the Blake Cottage Trust never acknowledged the concerns of people in Felpham about the local community not being represented in the Trust?
  18. As mentioned above, it had been agreed that we would need to create an organisation bigger than the Blake Society to run the cottage and start the fundraising that would make the renovation of the cottage possible. We had promised to the public a large consortium of accountable organisations and individuals, several of whom had been contacted already and were interested. Why then the Blake Cottage Trust was formed by only three men, two of whom had nothing to do with the campaign? Why a fourth trustee came in only now, and they have started to look for more trustees until the end of 2021?  
  19. Why didn’t the BCT set up as a priority to start working immediately on the repairs to the cottage, when the need for repair was so clear?
  20. What has the BCT done to address the extensive recommendations for repairs and conservation in the building survey report carried out on behalf of the Blake Society in December 2014?
  21. In the BCT’s first annual report and financial statement for the year ended 31 October 2015 they mention that their activities in their first year of existence had been “focused on the purchase, insurance and immediate maintenance of Blake’s Cottage while honouring its place within the village of Felpham . . .”. Which exactly were those activities regarding the cottage’s immediate maintenance, and why did they make such claims about honouring its place within the village of Felpham, when they were shutting the cottage’s doors to the local community and the Felpham organisation who had been in charge of the local leg of the campaign?
  22. Why was the original project for the cottage, the one that public and donors supported, ditched as soon as it was purchased? Why did Mr Heath lie to the public, to the Blake Society and in BS minutes saying that the project was a “blank canvas” with no vision behind it?
  23. Why didn’t the BCT inform the public for a whole year about their plans for the cottage, and haven’t produced up till now a concrete, formal project, that they have a duty to deliver?
  24. Are they going to make public such a formal plan now, consult donors and the local community for their approval, and once approved, make it binding?
  25. Why, when the BCT finally started talking about their plans, these centred around the creation of a visitor centre on the premises and on renting out rooms, which was never part of the original project supported by the public?
  26. Why the BCT didn’t acknowledge my communications or recommendations, and refused to meet with me and the Big Blake Project to have a productive conversation and clarify things?
  27. Why did requests from the Big Blake Project to meet up with the BS and the BCT and to have a proper response to their concerns were never attended to, despite the fact that two trustees of the Blake Society wrote to the BBP’s chair telling her that her concerns would be addressed? (Mrs. Searle also asked for documents regarding the setting up of the BCT, BS minutes reflecting its decision-making, including when it was decided that Mr Heath would set up the BCT alone,  decisions made about the visitor’s centre or disconnecting from the original vision for the cottage. She was never shown such documents.)
  28. Why did the BCT ignore Mrs Searle’s warning that, if they shut the cottage up the way they were doing, they would reduce chances of funding opportunities?
  29. Why did the BCT use the name of the Felpham Village Conservation Society,  without informing them and without their permission, pretending they were organising an event together while they knew fully well that the FVCS had other events that day and therefore few people would be there to question what the BCT was doing? (I have the BCT flier and correspondence from the FVCS as evidence.)
  30. Why, when they finally mentioned their plans a year after the purchase, they didn’t involve the immediate repair of the cottage, but rather the construction of a new building?
  31. It  had been agreed during the campaign that the visitor centre would be in Bognor Regis, not on the cottage’s premises, and that it would be run by the Big Blake Project. It had in fact been their idea. Why did the BCT steal the idea of the visitor centre from the Big Blake Project, rather than including them and consulting them, honouring their initiative?
  32. Why in 2016 the Blake Cottage Trust was trying to raise £50,000 for an architect for the new building rather than prioritising the repair of the cottage, and ignored completely the local objections to the new building?
  33. Why did the BCT consistently contradict itself about its plans for the cottage, and kept on changing what they said in their webpage and to the press depending on the concerns raised by myself and other campaigners?
  34. Why did the BCT ask for proposals of “a vision” for the cottage, when that vision existed already and was what donors had given their support and money for, and why did they ignore the document I sent them reminding them of that and what the original vision was, without ever addressing any of the points I was making? (https://blakecottage.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/1-a-vision-for-blakes-cottage.pdf)
  35. Why was no action taken on repairs for the cottage after the BCT received the 2016 Morton Partnership Survey?
  36. Why did the BCT ignore the petition initiated by Mrs Beryl Kingston in Felpham, with 500 signatures, to start repairs on the cottage immediately and objecting to the plans for a new building?
  37. Why did the BCT lied publicly in October 2016 about the time it had taken to raise the funds to acquire the cottage, saying it had taken “several years to raise the initial funds to purchase the cottage and we can expect a similar time frame to raise the monies for stage two”, when the funds for the cottage were in fact raised in less than two years, from around March 2014, when the initial work for the official campaign started, to September 2015, when Mr Heath obtained the large donation on his own?                                   
  38. Why did Mr Heath and the BS trustees collude in a cover up and lie to the public, saying that the cottage was  never a Blake Society project? (There is a lot of evidence, including official documents and publicity, apart from the public’s memory of course, to proof that they were lying. You can also look at: https://blakecottage.com/2017/01/26/last-call/) .
  39. Why has the Blake Cottage Trust presented, along with the Blake Society, inaccurate financial statements, overlapping information from both trusts, lying about some donations being given to the BCT when it didn’t even exist and the donations had been clearly given to the BS? [See https://blakecottage.com/2016/09/18/inconsistencies-in-blake-cottage-trusts-financial-report/. Also, https://blakecottage.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/inconsistencies-in-cottages-finances-april-20171.pdf, about the BCT making changes to their financial reports after I published my concerns. More information in page 9, https://blakecottage.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/chapter-xii-my-testimony-blake-cottage.pdf in “My Testimony”).
  40. Why didn’t the BCT ever respond to the concerns raised about their financial reports?
  41. Why didn’t Mr Heath ever give access to those of us leading the campaign with him, or to the Blake Society Committee, to the full financial information regarding the appeal, including the crowdfunding platforms’ full statements? (The then Treasurer of the BS had shown similar concerns at the time; then he promised to provide such financial reports at the 2015 AGM, but he never did. In fact, he didn’t show up at the AGM.)
  42. Is the BCT willing to show to Mr Heath’s fellow cottage appeal campaigners and to donors a full and detailed financial breakdown from the beginning of the campaign till now, with all the necessary supporting documents as evidence?
  43. Can Mr Heath explain why did the Blake Society appoint as an “independent” finance examiner to audit the cottage appeal finances Dr Duncan, who would the following month become their trustee and later on their Treasurer, and why did the BS lie in their minutes about the date in which Dr Duncan become a trustee?
  44. Why did Mr Heath put pressure on the press to tone down their covering of issues with the cottage prior to the publication of one article in a major British newspaper?
  45. What became of the 2015 appointment of BS trustee Henry Eliot, who was privy to the secret setting up of the BCT though he had no more involvement with the project, as cottage project manager for two years? Did he leave, or did he remain secretly employed after I raised my concerns, and why the promises that he made to me and Mrs Searle about future transparency from the BCT and the work that would start on the cottage and its preservation right away never materialised?
  46. Why did Mr Eliot say, on behalf of the BCT, that the original vision for the project that donors had given their money for was not binding?
  47. Why did Mr Eliot say, on behalf of the BCT, that I couldn’t be involved in the future of the cottage, though they would be very happy to have my ideas, contacts, and support?
  48. Why Mr Eliot said that the BCT had no objections for Ms Paige Morgan to work with them, Ms Morgan being a BS Trustee based in America who, along with Mr Heath, had hijacked the cottage appeal at its most crucial moment, colluding in the withholding of information, including financial information, from the BS Committee, from myself and the Big Blake Project; who had lied to the public regarding her involvement in the appeal, for which she had shown no interest when the appeal started; who was forced in by Mr Heath behind the BS Committee and fellow campaigners’ back, and who, just as Mr Eliot, had repeatedly said she had no time for it and therefore supposedly was not involved?
  49. Why did the BCT ignore my letters of warning following this information about their chair’s unscrupulous behaviour within the BS Committee and in his handling of the cottage appeal?
  50. Why didn’t the BCT honour their 2018 statement about being “actively looking for additional trustees from the local area”?
  51. In the same statement they said: “Once this project is done us three trustees will hand over to the community trustees and we will disappear. It’s got to be for the Felpham and Bognor community, that’s the whole point.” Are they going to honour that promise?
  52. Why was the BCT acting as property speculator in their website in 2017, announcing the sale of Treasurer Mr Peter Johns’ house and pointing at the estate agency that was selling it?
  53. Will the BCT acknowledge fully and publicly my work and that of the Big Blake Project in the cottage appeal, and recognise our right to be part of the future of the cottage if we so wish?
  54. Is the Blake Cottage Trust aware that none of the Blake Society Trustees that were part of the Committee during the cottage appeal and the immediate aftermath of the purchase (with the sole exception of Mr George Fort, who never colluded in the cover-up and was the only one to acknowledge my and the BBP’s desire to meet up and sort out our differences), has the right to work in or for the cottage, given their proven lack of probity which included bullying, secrecy, concealment of information from the other campaigners apart from Mr Heath (myself and the BBP), lying to the public and to the Charity Commission, colluding in a cover-up and manipulation of minutes?
  55. Is the Blake Cottage Trust aware of the fact that, if they plan to continue acting as the private owners of Blake’s cottage, they should explain that to the public and donors who supported the original campaign, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, and return them their money?
  56. Why did Mr. Jonathan Mullard, the new Secretary of the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust, consider it appropriate to ask me to take my website, which is the means through which I have been voicing my concerns about Blake’s  cottage and the BCT’s irregularities, off the web?

The following are blog entries regarding the BCT’s plans for the cottage and other irregularities:

https://blakecottage.com/2017/07/07/a-haunted-house/; https://blakecottage.com/2018/02/22/blakes-cottage-rotting-away-under-the-blake-cottage-trust/; https://blakecottage.com/2018/03/16/a-virtual-visitor-centre-and-some-questions-regarding-the-real-part-i/<; https://blakecottage.com/2018/03/17/a-virtual-visitor-centre-and-some-questions-regarding-the-real-part-ii/; https://blakecottage.com/2016/12/16/the-project-for-blakes-cottage/; https://blakecottage.com/2019/09/13/the-neglect-of-blakes-cottage/; https://blakecottage.com/2017/06/02/architects-at-blakes-cottage-and-more-fund-raising/; https://blakecottage.com/2016/09/05/the-blake-cottage-trust-keeps-on-lying/

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