By Betsy Everett
The owners of Gayle Mill are to be reported to the Charity Commission amid allegations of bullying and secrecy.
Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council heard that the North of England Civic Trust, based in Newcastle, had given the Gayle Mill Trust only two weeks’ notice of eviction, despite a clause in the agreement stating they should have had a year.
Chairman John Blackie told the packed meeting in the Gayle Institute, just 200 yards from the 18th century watermill which is now closed to visitors: “The way that this has been handled is totally unacceptable. We are not going to let this go. The fight has only just started.”
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On the suggestion of a resident, Ruth Lindsey, members agreed unanimously to write to the Charity Commission asking them to investigate why the NECT had forced the GMT, which depends on the services of more than 40 volunteers, to leave the building “lock, stock and barrel.”
Said Mr Blackie: “In twenty years of dealing with public sector organisations I have never come across an organisation that would behave as the North of England Civic Trust have. I have never seen one charity use these bullying and strong arm tactics on another.”
Graham Bell, director of the NECT, had cited legal reasons for not making any public statement until April 1, the day after the Gayle Mill Trust had to leave the building, and had refused to attend the council meeting.
“The conclusion is that they have got something to hide, but we could be here all night wondering what that might be,” said Mr Blackie. The parish council would tell the Charity Commission that they were “totally shocked” by the tactics the NECT had employed in expelling the GMT from the mill.
“We will name and shame them for the way they have gone about this, and for the way they have eschewed all that volunteer effort over the years. And we will say that whatever they are planning in the future, which they say will be revealed in April – if it’s something that depends on the support of this community they ain’t going to get it because clearly the support we’ve offered in the past has been treated with total disdain and contempt.”
William Lambert, chairman of the Gayle Mill Trust, told the meeting that when Gayle Mill had opened to the public 10 years ago the intention was that the GMT would enter into a full repairing and renewing lease and take responsibility for the building. This had never happened.
“Before the restoration was even complete it was painfully obvious that it was a failure. It wasn’t fit for purpose. The new turbine wouldn’t work, and many other things had failed,” he said.
Instead of entering into a full lease, they were put on a five-year “agreement to occupy” which expired in March 2016 and they understood the NECT would get funding to put matters right during that time.
“But nothing was done, so we extended that by another 18 months to September last year. We all agreed that we must keep occupying the mill and keep the business going, even though it was becoming harder to do that.”
Last summer they had been in negotiations with NECT and discussed renewing or extending the agreement for a further period.
“The next we knew we got a letter from Graham Bell giving us two weeks to get out of the mill, with everything that we owned.”
In response to a question from parish clerk, Fran Cartwright, Mr Lambert said that in the agreement they signed the period of notice required was 12 months.
He said they had asked David Butterworth, chief executive of the national park authority and a trustee of NECT, whether the intention was to sell the mill once they had cleared it, and he had stated categorically that it was not.
Ms Lindsey said that according to the accounts of the NECT, in 2016 Gayle Mill was transferred from being an investment property to a heritage asset, which meant that it could not be sold without applying to the Charity Commission. However, in none of the accounts, since 2012 to the present day, was Gayle Mill ever mentioned in the trustees’ reports, she said.
The Friends of Gayle Mill also feel excluded from the building’s fate and in an open letter to the NECT they said they have received no information, nor been involved in any discussion over the mill’s closure.
They add: “We feel that you (the NECT) should be keeping us informed of your future plans for the mill. In particular, we are concerned about who or what organisation will be running the mill after 2019,” says chairman of the Friends, Ian King.
You can read the North of England Civic Trust’s previous statement on the situation at Gayle Mill here.