Todmorden Learning Centre: Board stays in place and outlines next steps after acrimonious meeting

Todmorden Community College, which is being asset transfered to Todmorden Leaning Centre and Community Hub
Todmorden Community College, which is being asset transfered to Todmorden Leaning Centre and Community Hub

At an acrimonious meeting at Todmorden Town Hall, a motion of no confidence in the remaining board members of Todmorden Learning Centre was defeated amid allegations and counter-allegations of bad behaviour.

Todmorden Learning Centre and Community Hub is in the process of progressing a transfer of the Todmorden Community College in Burnley Road, Todmorden, to it from Calderdale Council.

The council agreed in principle to the asset transfer earlier this year and having survived the bid to oust them the board says it hopes to take over the running of the college this autumn and has started to put together a programme of courses beginning in September which will become the centre’s prospectus once the transfer has been secured.

Recently the board was rocked by the resignation of three trustees, Dave Golding, Nina Stanfield and Emma Leeming amid claims remaining board members were narrowing the vision for the project to their own vested interests, citing Incredible Farm and the School of Natural Building – an allegation denied by remaining board members who say it is unfounded.

The remaining trustees are Robin Asby, Nick Green, Barbara Jones, Janet Peter and new chair Helen Jones.

Their critics argue that the issue of business involvement in the project, which they claim was a key component of the business plan on which the council supported the asset transfer, is at risk.

But the board says formulating the lettings policy is the next step.

Part of the special meeting on July 24 was open to the public and became acrimonious towards its end, with clashes reportedly continuing in the members only section of the evening which considered the vote of no confidence and proposals to limit the number of representatives IF and SONB would have on the board.

A number of people complained on social media that they had been told their memberships were being suspended or vetted, some when they went into the members’ meeting, and therefore could not vote. It was also claimed questions people had wanted to ask in the public part of the meeting were not addressed.

The members’ motion supported by the resigning trustees had put forward four nominees of their own for board membership – Todmorden Town Councillors Janet Battye and Steph Booth, former local Labour Party secretary Janet Oosthuysen and lecturer, counsellor and school governor Wayland Gilley – but the motion was defeated with 27 for, 44 against.

After the meeting, Emma Leeming of the trustees who had resigned, said: “The sad thing is there’s enough interest from local business and educators who want secure tenancies and skilled professional volunteer support to make this project entirely sustainable.

“However at least nine of organisations have either pulled out entirely, or feel marginalised in favour of narrow vested interests.

“The only fair thing, as long as we know the membership process wasn’t being vetted, would be to have an AGM as soon as possible where all board members have to step down. Then proper elections could take place.”

According to TLC’s constitution, an annual meeting (AGM) should be held within six months of the end of the financial year.

Councillor Battye said TLC’s board seemed not to be demonstrating that it was openly and actively engaging with the community, resisting the call to be more open about the board’s membership and “reviewing” membership of people they seemed to think were critical of them.

She said the meeting had only been held because loegal pressure was put on the remaining board, a claim countered by the board who say they would have called it much sooner, they way in which it was called meaning legal processes had to be followed, delaying it by at least a month.

TLC chair Helen Jones said suspensions were in line with TLC’s constitution. “Before the meetings, several members, the ringleaders of the attempted coup, had been told face to face that their membership was under review and the reasons why,” she said and added that “to keep the peace” votes were allowed but the motion was still defeated.

A statement published by the board after the meeting says: “We have now started to pull together the jigsaw of what space we have to offer, what is required, what we can offer, in such a way that we can earn sufficient money to pay our way.

“This is the next phase of our work and we will be bringing together our key stakeholders in the discussion of how we solve this great jigsaw puzzle.”

Chair Helen Jones added that the past three months had been very difficult, carrying on with the asset transfer amid challenges to the board.

She said: “Give the board the space to get on with the work, and deliver the asset transfer of Todmorden College to the community of Todmorden. We hope that those who have been in opposition will abide by what the members had said.”

She pledged that communication with the community would be better going forward.