Friends of Delapre Abbey – No Longer needed by Conservatives?

FODA have been instrumental in restoration project and deserve respect
FODA have been instrumental in restoration project and deserve respect

Friends of Delapre Abbey – No Longer needed by Conservatives?

Last night I attended the Friends of Delapre Abbey AGM as an observer which I found impressive for two reasons.

The first was the very high number and quality of the people who attended and their passion for Delapre Abbey.

The second and less important but nevertheless great was that the venue for the AGM was in the Delapre Abbey Library.

The meeting itself went really well, they stuck to the agenda, dealt as all AGMs do with the Chairman and Trustees reports, end of year accounts and appointment of trustees et al.

FODA members are quite rightly delighted to have been an essential partner representing all that is good about volunteering in the successful £3.6million Heritage Lottery Fund bid and the plans for the restoration of the Abbey.

So nothing controversial then, and certainly nothing that would cause concern and anger amongst the members?

Well not quite?

It turns out that the Northampton Conservatives having been grateful for the support of FODA and other voluntary groups such as the Northampton Carnival organisers which led to the successful bid now appear to be excluding them from the project.

It turns out that the lease for Delapre Tea Rooms which is the main source of income for FODA and the profits of which are ploughed back into other community events and restoration projects such as the Victorian Greenhouses is due to end with no guarantee that it will be renewed.

What was worse news is that FODA have been told that the programme of restoration will mean that the tea rooms are scheduled to close in early 2015.

(Please note. In the interest of accuracy this is a correction to my earlier version of this blog stating that the tea room because of the proposed programme would close in 2014)

Given the importance the Borough Council, and especially the Leader of the Council placed on FODA and volunteers to support the bid for Heritage Lottery Funding wouldn’t you have thought that temporary tea room arrangements and facilities would be provided?

It seems not and in spite of having been given ‘verbal assurances’ to FODA the Northampton Conservatives refuse to give assurances in writing.

Why? Is the question the FODA members and supporters may well be asking unless there is an ulterior reason?

The impact of the closure of the tea rooms will not only be on the volunteers and FODA but also on the wider community who use them when visiting the park.

It then turned out during the discussion that FODA aren’t a member of the Delapre Abbey Restoration Board which is being led by the Leader of the Council, Councillor Mackintosh.

My understanding is that one of the main principles of the Heritage Fund money bid was the demonstration of community engagement and involvement that FODA provided and that once the Abbey restoration had been completed there would be a role for up to 100 volunteers.

Surely it would be logical for FODA who have done so much to recruit volunteers and invest in Delapre Abbey over the past 8 years to be involved at all levels of the restoration planning and delivery?

Unless of course as is suspected this is the start of the Conservatives excluding FODA and the Community from the Abbey?

Community events are important to Delapre Abbey and the Community
Community events are important to Delapre Abbey and the Community

If the exclusion and barriers being put up against FODA isn’t bad enough it also turns out that whilst the Conservatives are happy to confirm that the Beer Festival and Delapre Music Festivals will go ahead during the restoration no such confirmation has been given to the Carnival organisers.

The argument apparently being that it may damage the grounds!!

Now forgive me for being cynical but I’ll bet it would take bad weather of biblical proportions to cancel ‘money making pet projects’ such as the beer and music festival and disappoint those who attend.

The Carnival of course is a community driven event and doesn’t make money.

Unless you take into account the money the eight to ten thousands visitors spend in the town centre on Carnival day,

and you also disregard the involvement and pleasure it brings to the hundreds of children who are involved.

I have no idea how the Heritage Lottery Fund will view the approach towards FODA and Community groups that is being taken by the Northampton Conservatives but I’m sure the issue will be raised with them.

What I do believe is that without the FODA and community groups support it is highly unlikely that the bid would have been successful.

I would argue and I’m sure all reasonable people would agree that the Borough Council and Leader of the Council have a moral duty to support the continuing activities of FODA and Community groups during the restoration.

That Cllr Mackintosh has a moral duty to involve FODA at all levels and stages of the restoration and should invite them to join the Board.

I have no doubt that this will not be the end of the story but fear that we will see another example of the Conservatives taking an approach of political power triumphing over moral duty.

If past experience is anything to go by what Cllr Mackintosh cannot expect is that the community and FODA will go quietly and may well find that the ‘Freedom Fighters’ who supported the HLF bid may well end up being the ‘Terrorists’ who will fight him all of the way.