Town trust folds after 11 years

Carys Thomas
Carys Thomas

A ‘DEVASTATING blow’ has been dealt to Alnwick after its development trust was declared insolvent 11 years to the day since it was set up.

Doors were locked for the last time at Alnwick Community Development Trust (ACDT) yesterday as financial difficulties forced it into administration – after it was launched as the Alnwick People’s Trust on September 21, 2000.

Geoff Watson

Geoff Watson

Dried-up funding streams as well as an overspend on the Trust’s latest development, Alnwick Youth Hostel, were the final nails in the coffin for the organisation.

Trust chairman Carys Thomas said: “Trustees, who are all volunteers, have fought extremely hard to resolve the situation.

“Alnwick Community Development Trust has been the envy of many other trusts in having such a dedicated and united bunch of trustees, and I would like people to know how calmly and positively they have dealt with the serious issues we have been facing, leaving no stone unturned in efforts to find a happier solution.

“I personally want to thank them all for their support.

“Now we are working closely, as far as we can, with the administrator to try to ensure as positive an outcome as possible for our creditors during the administration process.

“It is desperately sad that the Trust must close with the loss of three staff jobs.

“Staff have worked very hard over the years to build the Trust’s community activities and it is very difficult to see that disappear, but I applaud their dignity and willingness to work to the end to ensure as smooth a transition of services as possible.”

The Trust owns the Alnwick Youth Hostel building and runs Alnwick Community Centre as well as owning flats at Clive Gardens which are rented out.

Northumberland County Council (NCC) is in discussions with administrators, Tait Walker, over the running of the community centre and youth hostel and jobs at both will not be affected.

It is expected that the flats will be sold and the money used to pay creditors, but those living in them will be safe.

Trustee, former Trust chairman and Alnwick town and county councillor Gordon Castle said: “We are all very sad that the Trust could not be saved from insolvency, despite tremendous efforts by the Trust executive.

“The root cause of the difficulties arises from the cessation of grant funding, which has required the Trust to seek a sustainable, independent income.

“Hopes that the youth hostel project might have provided that income stream have been frustrated by spiralling costs while the project was under way.

“Nevertheless, the hostel is emerging as a sound business of great benefit to the town and there is every confidence that it will continue to thrive under new arrangements.

“It is important to appreciate that, while the Trust itself has gone under, a separate trading company is still in being (whose directors are unpaid) which runs the youth hostel.

“It is in nobody’s interest for the youth hostel to be closed.

“We are all extremely sorry that some loyal staff will be made redundant, but I must also record my personal gratitude to the chief executive of Northumberland County Council and his officers.

“As soon as I explained the situation and requested help, he and his staff moved with commendable speed and commitment to ensure that the adverse effects are minimised and other arrangements for the management of key Trust activities made immediately.

“Trustees have been very supportive and understanding, and at some stage in the future it will be necessary to consider how Alnwick can make alternative arrangements to deliver the kind of projects and support for the town that made the Trust so invaluable.”

Geoff Watson, Trust manager for the last six years, said: “It is going to be a devastating blow to the town.

“It is hard to find an organisation or group that the Trust hasn’t engaged with.

“Just thinking of things like the Flodden celebrations which we kicked off two years ago, the Olympic Torch celebrations, which we were starting to get involved with, Alnwick Town Council, Alnwick in Bloom, there are lots of different organisations and initiatives that we will no longer be able to support.

“Speaking personally, I think it is going to have a massive effect on Alnwick.

“I started work here six years ago and it has been a tremendous job in which I have enjoyed delivering, along with other staff here, numerous projects for the town and getting involved in what is going on.

“It is a sad day for Alnwick. We have all worked very hard to try to find a solution but we ran out of options.”

The Trust was supported by the Northern Rock Foundation for four years.

When that folded, its core costs were then supported by the Northumberland Strategic Partnership, a vehicle of funding for One North East, which also disappeared.

The Trust then managed with ‘patchwork’ funding taking a ‘bit here and a bit there’.

But with the credit crunch even small pots of funding started to dry-up.

The plan was to use the Youth Hostel project to bring in a sustainable income for the future, but it came too late.

Carys added: “When this is all over, what I hope people will remembered is the positive legacy the Trust leaves behind including the creation of Swansfield Park and playground, the Harry Hotspur statue and successful Hotspur Festival, the street improvements at Greenwell Lane, and the Youth Hostel itself, which will remain trading as a viable business to the town’s benefit.

“What is less tangible is the work the Trust does in co-operation with other community groups but the Trust greatly appreciates the support we have been receiving from both NCC and Alnwick Town Council, as well as from other local groups to ensure that these activities, especially Alnwick Community Centre, are picked up by others and will carry on for the future.”

Alan Symmonds, Mayor of Alnwick, said the town council will do what it can to take on and help with projects or initiatives run by the Trust and will work with the administrators.

“It is obviously a sad loss for the town and I think everyone on the council will regard its position and acknowledge the contribution is has made,” he said.

Jeff Reid, NCC leader said: “The council recognises the important contribution the Trust has made to the town and the need to preserve the services and projects that were delivered by it. Over recent weeks we have been working closely with the Trust to consider ways in which the council can help protect community activities in Alnwick and to determine how they could be delivered in future. Of particular importance to us is the continuation of the services provided by the Alnwick Community Centre.

“These talks are ongoing but both parties are hopeful of finding an early solution.”

And it is hoped that another organisation, similar to the Trust, will be set up in due course.

Geoff said: “I am convinced that the county town of Northumberland has to have a development trust. I am sure in a few months’ time when the dust has settled we will see a Phoenix trust.

“It will not be the same, it will have different trustees and possibly a different way of doing things, but I am sure the town will have a development trust in the near future. And yes I would like to be part of that.”

Carys added: “I am passionate about Alnwick and want to do the best for the town. If people think I still have stuff to contribute I would be very happy to be part of something.”

Coun Castle added that if a new trust is set up it needs to have sustainable financial backing.

“Whatever we start up it has to have income,” he said.

“Nobody wants to go through this again. It is very clear that in the present economic circumstances it is very hard for any organisation to get the core funding it needs to pay for jobs in task.

“We will have to have a financial model. I have spoken to the chief executive of the county council and he feel that there will be options for a new organisation to be set up with secure funding.”

North Northumberland MP, Sir Alan Beith, said: “ACDT has done a great deal for the town over the last 10 years and the hard work of many people has delivered long-term benefits for Alnwick.

“I have been working with Northumberland County Council to ensure every effort is made to continue the work the Trust has been doing.”