March 4, 2015
As a prelude to an application for an injunction and High Court proceedings, campaigners have issued a letter before action over worrying governance issues within the UK’s 60th largest charity.
Camphill Village Trust (CVT), a charity originally set up to support the formation and maintenance of intentional communities that fully integrate the learning disabled into every aspect of community life, has been facing a storm of criticism over its attempts to dismantle the key elements of its communities.
Now those involved in three CVT communities – Delrow (near Watford), the Grange (Newnham-on-Severn) and Botton (in North Yorkshire) – have had enough and issued the letter before action, following the shock resignation of a long term Trustee Ian Bailey last month.
On resigning, Mr Bailey cited governance issues ranging from being excluded from parts of board meetings and not being provided with minutes through to failure to follow the Charity’s Memorandum and Articles of Association which is CVTs foundation trust document.
A legal opinion from the UK’s leading charities’ QC maintains that there are serious concerns with the activities of CVT which, it is asserted, is acting outside the powers as laid out in the Memorandum and Articles, the result of which is the dismantling of the core element of the very communities that the charity was formed to protect.
What’s more, legal advice indicates that CVT’s board has behaved improperly in manipulating control of the charity by
1. more than doubling the voting membership whilst refusing applications from those deeply involved in the actual communities. Many of the “new members” appear to have had no knowledge of community ethos, operation or founding principles and it is thought that the only reason for their being solicited to become members was to provide votes to support the current Trustees and prevent attempts to wrest back control by those actually involved in the communities.
2. the number of members likely to vote against the policies being forced through has also been reduced by management insistence that Co-workers leaving give up membership as a condition of receiving any compensation package and / or other payments.
3. in at least one case the management unilaterally removed voting membership without even informing the member concerned or following their own required procedure for removal*
CVT has, in response to these accusations, been dismissive of the formal Letter Before Action, has failed to provide the information reasonably requested and has refused to attend any formal mediation proceedings, thus incurring the risk of substantial legal fees and possible costs to be covered from funds intended for wholly charitable works.
Charity Commission consent is required before CVT can be taken to court. As a result the necessary application is being made. The net effect of CVT’s action has been and continues to be the tearing apart of living vibrant communities and acute distress of community members, including Co-workers and most importantly, the learning disabled residents, who have themselves recently created and courageously presented a petition at no 10 Downing St asking the Prime Minister to intervene on their behalf.
The residents, with the support of worried family members in the campaign groups, feel that their concerns have not been heard and their choices to live with their Co-worker families in a shared-life setting are being completely ignored.
CVT is already under scrutiny in other areas, with campaigners highlighting serious questions including a worrying lack of transparency in its accounts and, claims of harassment being made to local Police as well as pending actions for compensation by ex-community members who claim to have been bullied out of their communities. Finally a further letter before action from some of the affected learning disabled residents themselves has been issued over potential breaches of the Human Rights Act.