The Friends of the Brogdale Horticultural Trust must ask themselves some questions in the wake of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Food Programme’ broadcast on 20 and 21 May 2007.
In the course of an interview with Lord Rooker – Minister responsible for Defra, the owner of the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale – Lord Rooker stated twice that the decision to move the Collections to another site, in order to guarantee their security and future, had been taken last year.
Why then did Brogdale Horticultural Trust issue a ‘Message from the Chairmen of the Trust and Friends’ dated 1 February 2007 informing Friends this year that the Trust was taken by ‘surprise’ by the terms laid out in the Defra tendering procedure for the maintenance of the Collections after March 2008, which made provision for just such a move?
Is it possible or likely, that Defra had not taken the Trust into its confidence concerning the move when the only party interested in making such a move was the Brogdale Horticultural Trust? The answer to this question must take account, in the process of Defra’s decision-making, of the reason given by Lord Rooker that prompted the decision; what he claimed was the problem of relations between the Trust and the landlord/Hillreed, which had deteriorated to the point where the Trust was moving its administration offices from Brogdale. The Minister was clearly wholly taken up by the problems the Trust claimed were created by the landlord. He never concerned himself with the other side of the relationship between the landlord and the Trust.
For Friends this is all very perplexing, not least because the Trust has not taken the Friends into its confidence concerning relations with the landlord and instead resorted to a crude populist attack on the landlord as a developer of the worst kind. All attempts by Friends to engage the Trust in a serious exploration of the tensions existing, or, imaginary, between the Trust and the landlord – who was after all approved as a purchaser of the site by Defra – have been rebuffed, dismissed or simply ignored. It would appear that the landlord has provided a convenient excuse for the Trust to leave Friends, and it would seem, Defra too, with false impressions, while pursuing its plans of moving the Collections to another site.
How should the Friends of Brogdale Horticultural Trust respond to this new development? I can imagine many will feel as the banner headline of Faversham Times stated: ‘BETRAYED’(Thursday 24 May 2007). And yes, rightly so! But once the shock of the betrayal has been absorbed what about our responsibility as Friends to the Collections themselves?
I would urge Friends strongly not to resign from membership in disgust with the situation. Friends should write to the Chair of the Trust and the Chair of the Friends seeking an explanation.
Friends should challenge the Trust on a number of points. The Trust surely compromised its relationship with the Friends when it sought proxy votes against the Friends resolution, subsequently passed at the Special General Meeting. We now know that they have been preparing to move the Collections for at a least a year or two, but without informing the Friends. At the SGM on 28 April, Friends reaffirmed their commitment to the Collections at Brogdale, but, as yet, the general body of Friends have received no information on the result of that SGM, as far as I know. Friends voted to change their constitution so that they only supported the Trust while it maintains the Collections at Brogdale. The Trust should be questioned on this state of affairs.
Friends should make their views known to the the Trust. We became Friends so as to be Friends of the Collections and believe strongly the Collections should remain at Brogdale for all the reasons that have been aired here. Any relocation puts the Collections at risk and not least, it would be a waste of public monies.
What the Trust does and what it says reflects on its Friends. The Friends need to draw a clear line under all this by calling the Trust to account for its activities and statements of the past period, no less than its plans to move the Collections at public expense.
In my view the Trust should also be called to account and censured for its statement of intent to exploit the name Brogdale and the Collections in the event that it loses the tender. Its Chief Executive was reported in the South East Farmer of April 2007 as saying ‘ the Trust owns the Brogdale name, has other projects, and could, in theory, start another collection with wood cuttings from the original plants.’ This could be seen as nothing less than commercial warfare on the Collections at Brogdale.
This matter will not be settled in the weeks ahead. Win or lose, the Trust has announced its plans for the years to come. The Friends must not be silent.
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