The project for Blake’s Cottage

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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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Treasures in Heaven?

In the Blake Cottage Trust’s Journal entry of two days ago, inconceivably titled “Treasures in Heaven”, the Trust claims that its “primary concern during our first year has been to safeguard the structure of the building while we move towards a full and complete restoration.”

First paragraph, first fresh lie. The BCT only managed to put in supports for stopping the thatched roof from collapsing more than a year after the Cottage was purchased. Throughout the BCT’s existence, its primary concern has been to deceive the public, to lie, and to hold on to a historical building and a project that don’t belong to them, manipulating information and abusing power.

The public and donors to the Cottage appeal must be reminded, over and over again, that the Blake Cottage Trust, set up in secret by the Chair of the Blake Society and consisting only of he and other two men, all of them with no previous experience in handling such a complicated project, all of them ambitious and who have repeatedly proved to be arrogant, unprincipled in everything that touches on this project and to have an enormous contempt for truth, is not the organism that we aimed at creating when we started the Cottage appeal – the large consortium of accountable individuals and organisations that we promised donors (actual and potential) and the public that we would create.

The intention of creating such a consortium had solid grounds behind it. Had it been set in place, funds would have continued to be raised effectively throughout the past year, the Cottage wouldn’t have deteriorated further, and all the lying and unscrupulous activity that have thrown so much mud in Blake’s direction would have been avoided. No one would have then been allowed to hijack and appropriate this beautiful project.

So when the BCT claims that it “is doing everything in its power to secure its future”, it is indeed lying, and with no little cynicism. It seems evident that they have some degree of power and so far are managing to be protected, at least locally in West Sussex. They also know how to wield their powerful firm of lawyers in order to intimidate people and try to tone down the press. But they do not care about the Cottage, and all they’ve been doing is engaging in low politics, intrigues and digging themselves deeper and deeper into a pit of unethical behaviour that will be extremely hard for them to climb out of.

Though it’s never too late. They can always own up to their mistakes, apologize to the public and donors, be part of the solution. Never too late, that is, unless the Cottage is completely ruined, in its material fabric and… well, spiritually, in the sense of “spirit” that Blake cared about and the reason why we initiated this project in the first place, in a time that seems now painfully distant, and innocent.

In an article appeared in the local press yesterday the Trust claims that”There has been a lot of speculation about the ultimate use of the cottage”, but there hasn’t been “speculation”. The misinformation has come from them and the Blake Society, and we have to remember that to this day they have never cared to make public their records of decision making or a consistent project for the Cottage.

As soon as it was purchased in September 2015, both organisms in fact disowned the original project, and denied that it had ever been a Blake Society project in the first place. In the Blake Society’s AGM in January this year Tim Heath, who chairs both the BS and the BCT, made the extraordinary, and insulting, claim that the appeal had succeeded because of its “lack of vision”, as if we hadn’t dedicated endless hours, endless days, entire chunks of our lives (as I certainly did) to articulate that vision.

If you go to the Documents section in this webpage you will find “A Vision for Blake’s Cottage”, a document I sent to both the BS and the BCT a year ago to remind them of the original project, and of their obligations, and asking to meet up with them and all parts involved and find a solution to so many conflicts. They arrogantly ignored that document, that plea and all my repeated attempts at communicating with them. During all this time and up to August this year, when they found out that an article about the Cottage was about to appear in The Sunday Times, they didn’t bother to make public any consistent plan for the Cottage, and only a few days before that article appeared the only thing they made clear was that they intended to rent out rooms in the Cottage for private guests. That intention appeared in their own website.

As soon as the Sunday Times article appeared, and a further comment in this blog, challenging that plan, they deleted that information from their webpage and now are making attempts to convince us that they mean to respect the original project, some way or another, though now they talk of that as a secondary purpose, which was never the case. We wanted to make of the Cottage a home for the dissenting imagination, and that meant for it to be a place for creation, for artists, authors and thinkers, including the creation of a House of Refuge for persecuted writers, all of those aims which would have indeed honoured Blake.

To do all that we needed, again, an accountable, trustworthy organism, the consortium we had promised to create. People who are serious about their work and respect the work of others, people who respect donors and their wishes. What kind of artists are these three people, who have done nothing but lie since they acquired the Cottage, going to invite, with what criteria or authority, and what good can come of it all now?

They have also lied to the local press in saying that it took “several years to raise the initial funds to acquire the Cottage”. It took little more than one year, and it is really about time that they stop manipulating information.

If you care to know what I mean by that please read the former entries in this blog, particularly that of 18 September regarding the extremely worrying lack of consistency in the Blake Society’s and Blake Cottage Trust’s financial information.

I am aware that there are other people campaigning for the Cottage to be repaired and accessible to the public. Up to that point, I agree, both things have to happen. But I want to make clear in this space that I am not attending any meetings organised by them and will not engage with them. One cannot clear up the prevailing confusion by adding more confusion, without having facts right, and with the same tactics of manipulating information and contempt for truth that we are supposedly protesting against, particularly when some of these people have their own agenda, including the rejection of the original project. I am playing no games. Nobody’s games.

Finally, I’ll just comment on the last paragraph of the Blake Cottage Trust’s entry in their Journal, that, in the circumstances, is both sanctimonious and cynical to a near pathological degree. Mr Heath quotes one of Blake’s favourite passages in the Bible: Lay up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt … for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

In a disturbing tendency of creating a revolving dialogue, or warning, or mockery that sometimes seems aimed at himself, Mr Heath seems to be pointing at the treasures he’s laying up. So far, regarding William Blake’s Cottage, Mr Heath’s actions, the reasons behind them, and the Blake Society’s and Blake Cottage Trust’s actions, in colluding with him and with a cover up, have been using and abusing other people, their work, their good intentions and their generosity; active and willful harm in fact of some of those people, with no little bullying involved; lying, appropriation of other people’s work and of a beautiful project worthy of Blake and of the donors who supported it; incompetence; abuse of power; meanness of spirit, arrogance, a depressing lack of human dignity and any sense of ethics; cowardice; a mockery of everything that Blake stood for in his life and through his work; the building up of the worst insult that Blake has received after his death… the heart of people who accumulate such frightful “treasures” is, I’m afraid, in the farthest possible place from Heaven.

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Over a year now…

It’s been over a year now since the Blake Cottage Trust acquired Blake’s Cottage, and only this week have they managed to put in the steel supports to stop it from collapsing, though they still don’t have the means to actually repair it.

There is some information going round that is not quite accurate, at moments wilfully distorted – this sad story has become a case of Chinese whispers and a curious display of human foibles, but one thing is clear to all: the Blake Cottage Trust doesn’t have the means to repair or care for the Cottage, let alone to honour the beautiful project we – those of us who created and ran this campaign – promised to the public that we would create.

This is so because the Blake Cottage Trust is an illegitimate organism set up in secret by Mr Heath alone, for his own rather unclear purposes, rather than the large consortium of accountable organisations and individuals that we promised to create. Had that consortium been created, work on the Cottage would have started immediately after its purchase, the fund-raising would have continued, the public would have been duly informed, with all transparency, about the work being done and the actual whereabouts of the money donated. We would have a clear project now, and something to celebrate. That was precisely the reason why a large and accountable consortium was deemed necessary in the first place.

The Blake Cottage Trust is not being trusted and for good reason. The Cottage must indeed be in the hands of responsible, and honourable, people, and the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust do not fit that description at all. On the contrary, they have proved to be woefully unprincipled and incapable to run a serious public project.

It is about time that they own up to it, acknowledge that they have done much harm, apologize to the public and become part of the solution by letting go of the Cottage and allowing responsible people to take proper care of it. They have had more than enough time to understand that nothing handled with such lack of care, principles, respect for others, with such lack of rigour too and such an alarming disregard for truth, can turn up well. They can still sit down with those of us who do care and do the very least that they can do now: honourably get out of the way so that the Cottage doesn’t simply collapse.

That nothing done with lack of principles or regard to truth ever comes to any good should be borne in mind too by those who think they can jump on the bandwagon now that everything around the Cottage is chaos. Truth always reveals itself.

It is about time too that more of the national press starts taking this seriously, that people stop fearing the powerful firm of lawyers appointed by Mr Heath – the only thing he seems to have managed to do with the money we all raised, in an attempt to consolidate the power that he has used, and abused, against all of us – and ultimately against himself, for this is indeed an incredibly sad way to destroy his own work of decades around the legacy of William Blake.

Please look at my previous posts in this blog: regarding the worrying inconsistencies in the BS and BCT finances, regarding the lack of a coherent, transparent project, the lack of respect for the public and for Blake himself at the hands of these two Trusts that thought they could get away with lying and destroying. Please do spread the word.