Village trust gets stay of execution

A TROUBLED village development trust, whose future hangs in the balance, has been given a stay of execution to make a last-ditch attempt to recruit new trustees.

Belford Development Trust looked set to fold at its AGM last Thursday night, but in the explosive meeting at the village’s Blue Bell Hotel, it was agreed to give the organisation more time to bolster its ranks, in a final make-or-break bid.

The charity’s potential demise follows a feud between the Trust and Belford and Middleton Parish Council, which has rumbled on for months over finances and the running of the Trust.

But a resolution put before the meeting – recommending the dissolution of the Trust in accordance with its constitution and the rules of the Charity Commission, as it does not currently have the required seven trustees – was amended. It was agreed to give the charity a period of respite to try to salvage the situation.

Its fate will now be decided at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) in the coming weeks.

Its president, Lord Walton of Detchant, who branded the saga as being ‘beyond a joke’, said: “I have never come across a situation as fraught as this, which is contrary to the interests of this Belford community.

An EGM will be held in four to six weeks from now. There will need to be efforts made to recruit additional trustees to reach the minimum number to function.

“It is up to the present trustees to consult and try to recruit new trustees and I hope there will be a spirit of goodwill. That is crucial to this Trust continuing. Goodwill has been lacking throughout this unfortunate period and it is one of the most difficult and contentious matters that I have had to deal with in my lifetime.”

The Trust’s former chairman Ros Simpson, who resigned from the role at the meeting, criticised individuals in the village for a ‘witch hunt’ against the Trust.

She blames ‘highly damaging’ editorials by the owner of the On Your Doorstep magazine, which she said had been supported by the parish council, who she claimed had ‘continued to criticise and carp, despite the best efforts of the Trust to answer all their questions and queries to the best of our ability’.

She blamed their ‘vindictive behaviour’ for the Trust’s failure to attract new trustees.

The parish council had written to Mrs Simpson with a list of eight questions which it believed needed clarifying, including discrepancies in the War Memorial Account.

But Lord Walton described the letter as being ‘aggressive’ and that some of the issues were no business of the parish council.

He also said that he had looked at the Trust’s accounts and there was ‘no evidence to suggest any misappropriation of funds that has been hinted at on more than one occasion’.

Trust treasurer Phil Nicholson added that seven of the questions had been answered and that the final one, which related to income and expenditure shown on the Charity Commission website which did not correlate with the recently-published accounts on the Trust’s website, had come about because of a mistake and it will be corrected.

He said that the Trust would hand over £1,000 for the carnival fund – which has also been a bone of contention during the saga – once the parish council had made a formal, written request for the money.

Some residents who attended the meeting spoke in favour of the Trust and hit out at those who are said to have orchestrated a campaign against the charity, which was set up to benefit the community.

But parish council vice-chairman Brenda Stanton hit back, saying the Trust was a good thing and she had no ‘personal axe to grind’.

“The parish council has been painted as the villains and the black sheep of this situation,” she said.

“But in actual fact, the parish council does what is expected of them and we have done what we did in the best interests of the village.

“There has been a lack of transparency over what has happened over the last four years. People don’t know what is going on and people have asked questions

“We are obliged as elected members of the community to raise these issues and try to get the answers to the questions that people have asked – we act as the mouthpiece. We are not engaged in a vendetta.”

The Trust has now sold the bank building, which it owned, and if the Trust does survive, it will seek alternative accommodation for the charity shop.

If it folds, it has been said that its assets would be transferred and used for the benefit of the community.

Parish councillor Geoff O’Connell raised concerns that if this happened, the money would not automatically stay in the village, but his comments were described as a ‘red herring’ by one speaker.

If anyone would like to become a trustee, they should contact Mrs Simpson on 07598 971218.