Resignations rock Todmorden Learning Centre community hub project

Happier times: Campaigners united to save the college for community use, before the resignations
Happier times: Campaigners united to save the college for community use, before the resignations

An ambitious project to turn a college building into a community hub has been rocked by the resignation of three trustees who have accused other remaining trustees of narrowing its vision “to match its own vested interests”.

Education specialist Dave Golding, law specialist and secretary Nina Stanfield and campaign leader Emma Leeming have resigned from the board of Todmorden Learning Centre, which is in the process of having the Todmorden Community College (TCC) building on Burnley Road, Todmorden, asset transferred to it by Calderdale Council.

They have called for a members’ general meeting which they say must be held by July 24, proposing a motion of no confidence in the current board, whose other members are chair Robin Asby, Barbara Jones of the School of Natural Building, Nick Green of Incredible Farm and Jan Peters.

Resigning trustees said significant challenges had been made regarding the independence of Dr Asby, who is secretary and a director of Incredible Farm.

Remaining trustees have not responded to that specific criticism but said they believed there was no substansive evidence to support some of the assertions made in the resignees’ statement to the press.

The three resigning trustees are proposing a new board of three members should be elected, including an independent chair, which is not connected with the organisations named in TLC’s constitution.

This new board would in turn appoint a further three board members with the School of Natural Building and Incredible Farm continuing to appoint or nominate up to one board member each who will be the only trustees on the board with links to those organisations.

A press statement issued by the resignees said their “view, and that of many of the members, is that the existing board is not fit for purpose…it is felt that the remaining board of just four trustees is unwilling to utilise required governance standards.

“Having apparently narrowed TLC’s vision to match its own vested interests, many members feel the board is neither representing its membership or the interests of the community it is also meant to serve.”

But the four remaining board members have criticised parts of the full statement as containing “multiple inaccuracies” and said they believe there is “no substansive evidence to support the assertions made in it.”

The remaining trustees say: “Our duties as trustees of TLC are regulated under our constitution and the 2014 Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act.

“We take our duties very seriously and have taken expert advice from a variety of sources including Locality, Co-ops UK and an expert in co-operative and company law.”

Mr Golding said in the resigning trustees’ statement that when he joined the board, board members were writing a business plan to submit to Calderdale Council supporting the asset transfer of the college for benefit of the local community to develop education and training courses and provide a location for development of local businesses.

“However a controlling faction on the board has a much narrower view of the future of TCC and have shown little interest in many of these developments.

“More worryingly, the majority of this faction appear to see TCC as an opportunity to provide accommodation for their own inter-linked organisations, to the detriment of other potential tenants and users.

“This group is either unwilling or unable to see that their self-serving actions have created a series of conflicts of interest,” he said.

The resigning trustees said members had expressed concerns following an email from the TLC board which stated they would need to complete and sign a new application form which the board would “review and accept or reject” – this is against its constitution, they argue.

Remaining trustees said that following the resignations they had reviewed processes to ensure they remained and continued to be appropriately focussed and compliant with all relevant legislation and requirements.

Before the resignations they had pro-actively sought to offer less experienced members support to act correctly in line with TLC’s shared legal and constitutional responsibilities. Training was accepted but not taken, say the remaining trustees, who claim other problems regarding conduct had given them serious cause for concern and had been explored as internal matters.

“We are continuing to closely follow the business plan submitted to, and accepted by, Calderdale Council. We are making great progress with the asset transfer,” they said.

“TLC must, and will, be truly something for everyone.

“We are therefore saddened and concerned when individuals within the TLC feel they need to make their grievances public but welcome the opportunity this creates to openly reflect and review on our processes and practices,” they said.

Former board member Emma Leeming said the project would happen but a new board would be necessary.

“TLC will happen. It will be such a thriving hub for businesses, for education, for the local community, with the strong environmental element that’s clearly laid out in the business plan.

“First though, we need to sort this little hiccup!

“We now need a good strong and diverse board, with an independent chair and where Incredible Farm and the School of Natural Building have just one nominee each.

“Transparency and good governance is paramount here, as is the involvement of members with the development of the business plan,” she said.

In terms of transparency, the remaining board said in their statement members were being kept informed: “Since the resignations the board has taken over the duties of communication, which was the role of some of the resignees, and we have been regularly communicating with members and supporters by email, phone and face to face.”

No date has yet been confirmed for a meeting but the resigning directors say there has been a quorate – 10 per cent of membership – application for a members’ meeting which would be constitutionally sound and had to be held within six weeks of the application submission, that is, by July 24.

“They have to provide two weeks notice of the meeting. If they don’t respond within a month of the application submission, then TLC members can call the general meeting themselves,” said the resignees in their statement.

The board has not yet commented on whether a meeting would be held by July 24.

Earlier this year Calderdale Council made a decision to support the transfer of the building to TLC’s custodianship.

Councillors were given two options, the other being a bid from Aldi supermarket, which has planning permission to develop the adjacent former Abraham Ormerod medical building and Olympia Cinema sites, to purchase the site with the potential of submitting a larger scheme.