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

We live in times when it’s easy to lose our grip on reality and start living entirely in a fantasy world. Our overdose on what we call technological advances has made of the disconnection, dissociation and disintegration of our minds a strange commodity.

In this context, I wonder whether if the Blake Cottage Trust’s three Trustees have really lost it altogether now, whether if they are trying to take advantage of the gullibility of contemporary men- and women-folk, ever more willing to believe in what is not actually there, or a combination of both.

Be as it may, we recently had a chance to see an article on the Bognor Regis Observer, boasting 3D images of Blake’s Cottage (new Blake’s Cottage 3D images).  The reader could access this piece of entertainment by watching the accompanying video: a slide show created by MICA, the architecture firm that the BCT has chosen to help them do as they wish. The video has an interesting caption telling us that we’re looking at images “of what a fully restored Blake’s Cottage would look like”. That is, we’re watching images belonging to the realm of make-believe.

Those deadened images of something that has no material existence are, of course, ultra-modern architectural sketches for a project, and nothing more. They don’t show much of the purported restoration of the actual cottage (apart from showing a whitewashed exterior rather than the present brick and flint-stone one). They rather concentrate on the polemic visitor centre on its grounds, which was never part of the original plan, and which has met with no little objection.

My first question is:

  • With what money has the Blake Cottage Trust been paying MICA architects to draw up their plans?

I ask this because the production of such sleek (even if, in the circumstances, meaningless) images cost money, and while the Blake Cottage Trust keeps on trying to fool the public with ever clumsier attempts to draw them into their fantasy world, the reality of Blake Cottage is one of dismal decay. The state of its physical existence is as far from restoration as it can possibly be, as visitors could see by themselves during the recent open days, orchestrated around the Blake Petworth exhibition.

Mrs Beryl Kingston documented the sad reality in her blog. The images make one want to cry, be extremely worried, and angry. You can look at Mrs Kingston’s blog here: If Blake’s cottage had a voice it would cry help .

This calls for the second question:

  • Why hasn’t the money used to pay the architects to plan a fancy, controversial visitor centre been applied instead for the obviously urgent: to actually restore the building and preventing it from collapsing altogether?

Furthermore,

  • Why has the Blake Cottage Trust allowed Blake’s cottage to reach such a dire state of disrepair during the 2 years and a half since it was acquired?

There are further questions regarding those images of disrepair, one of which the Blake Cottage Trust is using to keep on lying to the public in a curious little document they have just published, but the said document is interesting enough to merit its own entry, so I’ll leave the matter for the second part of this comment.

Meanwhile, let’s look at the statements made by the Blake Cottage Trust’s Treasurer, Mr Peter Johns (mistakenly called Richard in the Bognor Regis article). In the article, which doesn’t fail to mention the criticism the BCT has been subject to since the acquisition of the cottage, Mr Johns is quoted saying: ““We are actively looking for additional trustees from the local area. 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.”

Now these are extraordinary statements to make for one of the three men who have stolen a public project and have so far treated the Felpham community with untoward contempt. Therefore, I ask:

  • Why are they looking for additional trustees only now?
  • Why have the three of them been grasping at the illegitimate trust they formed for two years and a half, ignoring completely those of us who’ve repeateadly reminded them that when we started the Cottage Appeal we aimed at creating a large, proper and inclusive trust that would be transparent and accountable, and that it was completely inappropriate, unethical and verging on fraudulent practice for them to appropriate a public project?
  • And why do they suddenly want local trustees, again, two years and a half after they acquired the Cottage and bullied out the Big Blake Project – the Felpham organism with which we at the Blake Society ran the campaign -, actually calling them “a pressure group”? And why, after having treated the Felpham community with great contempt during all this time?

I will remind these men that it is a bit too late now to be boasting about being looking for more trustees, local or otherwise. What they have been engaged in since Blake’s cottage was acquired on September 2015 is too long a chain of unethical practice, incompetence and blatant, constant lying to the public, and therefore the only way for a Blake Cottage Trust to function is to open it up completely as we had originally conceived it, calling for the accountable and trust-worthy institutions and individuals who can take proper care of the property.

What this means is that none of these three men can possibly remain in a legitimate Blake Cottage Trust, because none of them has been accountable for their actions, nor trust-worthy or ethical for the past two years and a half. Their time to “disappear”, as Mr Johns said, has long been up.

Mr Johns also says in the mentioned article: ““We are progressing satisfactorily. A couple of people have been saying we are taking too long but we have had to go through the architectural stage, which has taken nearly nine months, and now we have to go through the planning stage which could be five to seven months.” Anyone looking at the state the cottage is in would of course be forgiven for asking what do these people consider “satisfactory progress”. In any case, I have another question:

  • If the architectural stage has taken nearly nine months, what exactly has the Blake Cottage Trust been doing for the other 21 months during which the cottage has been in their hands?

I can say what they have not been doing: they have not been building a reliable and accountable trust, despite having been repeatedly asked to do so and to honour what those of us who worked in the Cottage Appeal promised to donors and the public to do, and this means that therefore the cottage hasn’t benefited from the expertise of people and institutions in the various aspects of the project, working as a team, that was crucial for its success. It also means that there was no swift, visible and energetic continuation of the fundraising immediately after the purchase of the cottage, which was also crucial. Instead of that, they remained for nearly a year in complete silence, not deigning to make public a single word about their plans for the building.

When they finally spoke, it was to start weaving a fantastic web of lies, bullying and intimidation. The document I mentioned above that the Blake Cottage Trust has just published in their website is the latest example of those extensive lying, contradictions and manipulation, and these are so outrageous that, as I said, the second part of this blog entry will be dedicated exclusively to it. Please keep an eye on this space.

Meanwhile, I’d just like to remind the reader that Mr Peter Johns, the Treasurer of the Blake Cottage Trust, has presented in the past an inaccurate Blake Cottage Trust’s Report and Financial Statement in which he’s plainly lying, as stated in former entries in this blog (Inconsistencies in Blake Cottage Trust and Blake Society financial reports), and that is very serious indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

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Blake’s Cottage, rotting away under the Blake Cottage Trust

In the “New Concerns Over Cottage” note that appeared in The Bognor Regis Post on 20 February, Peter Johns, Treasurer of The Blake Cottage Trust, and responsible for the financial reports about Blake’s cottage that show a worrying degree of contempt for truth, is quoted saying that  now that the architects’ plans for the projected visitor centre have been finalised, “we can go to potential funders to show them that this is a real project and that is what we intend to do”.
          That is an extraordinary thing to say. The Blake Cottage Trust has had since September 2015 to show not only to potential funders, but to the public, that theirs is a real project, and they have failed miserably. What they  have achieved is rather to allow the cottage to go into an appalling state of further disrepair. Visitors during their open days coinciding with the Petworth exhibition could see by themselves the cottage’s heartbreaking state of ruin and decay.
        I have given a timeline earlier in this blog about the Blake Cottage Trust’s actions and, mostly, inaction during these past years. In fact, for around a year since the purchase of the cottage they didn’t even deign to communicate to the public at all what their plans for the building were. I find it a bit too late for them to try to show that theirs is a real project, two years and five months after the purchase, and with the building in such a dire state.
       We do know that they never honoured what was promised to the public during the 2014 campaign:  that a large consortium of accountable organisations and individuals would be created to take care of the cottage and honour the trust put in the Blake Society, who created and ran the public appeal, along with the Big Blake Project.
       If such a consortium had been created, as I have said many times before, the necessary funds would have been raised a long time ago and the cottage would have now been repaired. The fund-raising should have continued immediately after the purchase, with all the members of the consortium contributing their expertise and their skills and, most importantly, making sure that everybody involved was accountable.
       Instead, the cottage and the whole project were hijacked by three ambitious but incompetent men who have squandered their energies in lying to the public, bullying and intimidating any one who dares to challenge them, who have proved to be utterly unscrupulous and utterly incapable to take care of the building.
       They have lied to everybody continually and systematically: recently I found their statements to the Felpham Village Conservation Society in 2016, a concoction of falsehoods that the FVCS, if their minutes are anything to go by, swallowed like a child.
       It’s about time that the public calls these men to task, before the cottage collapses completely.

Blake at Petworth, and the National Trust

The exhibition William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion, recently inaugurated at Petworth, is certainly a thing to celebrate.

However, it is indeed a concern that the National Trust is now not only promoting in its publicity for the exhibition the Blake Society, but actually actively endorsing the Blake Cottage Trust and their plans for Blake’s Cottage. In the Petworth webpage they are in fact announcing some visits to the latter.

That the National Trust is thus openly supporting two corrupt charities which function on the basis of lying to the public, bullying, intimidation, slandering and presenting inaccurate financial information is of course a very worrying state of affairs. The Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust may seem unstoppable at the moment in their capacity to attract, and manipulate, the support of good-willed, generous individuals and institutions, not to talk about the super rich, super famous and super powerful. The more they do so, however, the more there will be to regret when both charities finally lay fully exposed for what they are, as they may taint those who have supported them unawares.

I have contacted Mr Andrew Loukes, the curator of the Petworth exhibition, and the National Trust, to warn them about the kind of organisations they are dealing with.

The reader of this blog may be interested to know that back in 2014, when the Cottage appeal started and I had no inkling that Mr Tim Heath, the Chairman of the Blake Society and now of the Blake Cottage Trust, would appropriate the project through extremely unethical practice, I was very keen on establishing links with the National Trust, an organisation that I respect and which has a wealth of expertise and records of accountability that might be of much good to the kind of project we had envisioned for Blake’s Cottage.

I contacted the then Chair of the National Trust, Sir Simon Jenkins, who responded enthusiastically to show his support. A representative of the NT attended our launch of the project in Parliament in the summer of 2014. Throughout the rest of the campaign the link established with that representative weakened. However, I always insisted on strengthening our communication with the NT. I believed that we had much to learn from them and that, if we found a way of working with them despite the fact that our project for the Cottage was different from the structure they usually work with, we would all gain much.

Mr Heath wasn’t much interested in any such link. Evidence of my insistence on the benefits of a partnership with the National Trust can be found throughout my testimony of what happened with Blake’s Cottage in this webpage.

When things got truly wrong with the appeal and I, with my health in tatters, couldn’t take the secrecy and bullying from Mr Heath anymore, I left with him a document with my recommendations for the future of the project, in which I insisted on the pertinence of following up the contact with the National Trust, as can be seen in chapter XII of my testimony.

Then the Cottage was purchased. I realized that Mr Heath’s dealings regarding the project had been carried out all by himself, keeping the Blake Society’s Committee and members completely in the dark about what he was up to. He did the same with the Big Blake Project, who had been our co-campaigners in Felpham and, just as he did with me, he had bullied out. Most worryingly, he had created his own illegitimate trust of only three men, the total opposite of the large consortium of accountable individuals and organisations that we had promised to create, which now bears the name of the Blake Cottage Trust. The first step in registering this Trust with the Companies House was taken in complete secrecy, with Mr Simon Patrick Weil, Mr Heath’s lawyer, standing in for him and actively hiding away from all of us, just when Mr Heath’s probity was being severely questioned and both the Cottage project and the Blake Society itself were in risk of dissolution. This is the Blake Cottage Trust’s certificate of incorporation. Mr Heath kept on denying, at least until January last year, that the BCT had been incorporated on October 2014.

Many people were outraged at the appropriation of Blake’s Cottage by the Blake Cottage Trust – particularly people in Felpham, who had either had their work stolen or had witnessed how this had happened. I was very worried, and so were the Trustees of the Blake Society, who had not an inkling of what or how Mr Heath had been doing since I had left the appeal. However, I still wanted to avoid the need to contact the Charity Commission or making the matter public, hoping that the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust would see reason, get together with all those of us who had concerns regarding their behaviour, and that a solution would be found.

To that effect, I sent to both charities a document in which I explained to the two new Trustees of the Blake Cottage Trust what they were colluding with, in case they didn’t know already, and reminded the Blake Society of their responsibility towards a project that they had initiated, and for which they had received money and support from over 700 donors.

In that document, which you can read here, I mentioned again the desirability of a partnership with the National Trust for the future of the Cottage. By now what I was pointing at with more urgency was the NT’s commitment to accountability and transparency, as an example that both the BS and the BCT would do good in following.

I never received a response to that document.

As the dishonesty of the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust reached then inconceivable heights, and the Cottage was falling into further disrepair without the BCT doing anything to stop it, let alone making public what they were planning to do with it for a very long time indeed after its purchase, I contacted the National Trust in June 2016, in the hope that they could intervene somehow so that the Cottage wasn’t ruined and, most importantly, so that it could be protected by an accountable organism.

I received a very kind response from Ms Jane Cecil, National Trust General Manager at the South Downs, explaining that they couldn’t intervene in rescuing the Cottage, though they would be very glad to offer advice should the various parties involved jointly request it. She stated that the National Trust had already been asked to help with acquisition and presentation of Blake’s Cottage, and that they had provided some limited help. She also said that they believed that the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust as I’d described them didn’t seem to be in a position to progress at that moment the necessary work.

A year and a half later, the National Trust, through Petworth’s promotion of its Blake exhibition, is promoting also the Blake Society and actually endorsing the Blake Cottage Trust.

Of course the staff at Petworth and its curator, Mr Loukes, had probably no way to know that the National Trust had been warned about the lack of ethics of these organisations so long ago. That is why I have now contacted both Mr Loukes and the direction of the National Trust, so that they take pains to ensure that the organisations they support have an impeccable record of accountability and are as committed to transparency as the National Trust, without a doubt, is.

All the evidence regarding the numerous breaches of trust and examples of extremely unethical practice that the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust have been incurring in since 2014 is publicly available, and that will surely make it easier to anyone who may be inclined to support them to act responsibly.