Friday, 7 December 2012

Bad faith, hopelessness and charity

In the Stratford Herald of 6 December appeared the following letter from Roy Lodge, ex-mayor of Stratford upon Avon and therefore ex-Trustee of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust:
“It is understandable to note that although Diana Owen, director of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust speaking at the recent community forum, and Richard Hyde, the trust’s deputy chairman are expressing disappointment on behalf of the trust at the secretary of state’s decision for the Shottery development to go ahead are also emphasising that as a charity the trust has three objectives, the first of which is: ‘To maintain and preserve the Shakespeare properties for the benefit of the nation.’ This objective they rightly point out must be uppermost in the minds of the trustees when considering this issue.

“To put undue pressure on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to categorically rule out the sale of the land is a failure to understand that the trustees must act in the best interests of the charity. The politics of the case is not within their remit so much as their responsibilities as trustees, which is to honour their primary integrity to secure and safeguard Shakespeare’s legacy for future generations.
“Campaigners against the development are better advised to focus their faith, hope and input into the legal challenge that is being launched by the Stratford District Council. Hopefully, this challenge will be successful.”

Responding to Roy Lodge, Save Shottery would like to reiterate the purpose of active protest rather than ‘faith and hope’. Continuing to put pressure on the Trust is what will ultimately serve the Trust’s best interests. Director Diana Owen has said she will pass all petition signatures and comments to her Trustees for consideration. It would be remiss of us not to keep up this level of concern while the Trust is undertaking research prior to its ultimate decision on whether to sell or not to sell. The fact that it has waited until the eleventh hour to carry out these surveys, however, can only lead people to believe that this is a smokescreen, a prevarication, a further delaying tactic. If this due diligence is so important, the Trust would have done it two years ago and played a leading role in the Public Inquiry earlier this year. Furthermore, without our recent success in putting the Trust under the spotlight, where it should have been all along, all the pressure would have fallen totally on Stratford District Council. While SDC has a lot to answer for, it can now proceed with the High Court case, largely undisturbed.
As Roy Lodge was at the Stratford Community Forum he cites in his letter, he will no doubt remember that Save Shottery asked SDC Leader Chris Saint whether we could be of any help during this legal process. We believe organisations like SDC and SBT should be working together – if, that is, we are to take at face value the universal opposition to the development. Cllr Saint said that he welcomed support but could not specify what it would be. Procrastinating as ever, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has said that it will wait until after the legal process (again) before deciding whether to sell or not to sell. How does that help the anti-development case?

As for Mr Lodge’s point about the Trust having to do what is best for the interests of the charity, well, as an ex-SBT Trustee with close relationships with existing Trustees, he would say that, wouldn’t he? In this case, however, doing what is best for the charity is doing what is best for the nation – a point he seems to make without any irony. This is an unusual charity, in that its activities are governed by UK Act of Parliament, the 1961 Shakespeare Birthplace Act. It is precisely this that has led to our deep involvement.  It is our duty, as citizens, to question anything we deem is not in the nation’s interest and to insist on our right to see the minutes of Trustee meetings. These are not private matters, but public matters. It is certainly not in the nation’s interest for 800 houses and a link road to be built at the back of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, enclosing Shottery with concrete. The fact that visitors will still come is not the answer. Something precious, peaceful, tranquil, would be destroyed forever. As David Langman pointed out in the Herald’s very same letters page, ‘Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is effectively a world heritage site’. It certainly should be. And we, as defenders of such a belief, should be very wary of disingenuous opinions from former and existing Trustees who have somehow come to believe that boosting the charity’s coffers would be an acceptable conclusion, ‘in the nation’s interest’.

Considering what is at stake, there can be no such thing as ‘putting undue pressure’ on Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. ‘Failure to understand’? 1300 people from around the world clearly understand what is important here.  And, as the developers clearly show, hope is not enough. Action is what counts.

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