Attending the Westway Trust Forums this week reaffirmed everything Westway23 believe to be true about the Trust.
Attendance was pitiful, despite the huge sums they spend on "communications".
The evening session was attended by only ten people who were not connected to the Westway Trust. Six of those people were from Westway23.
The daytime session was empty. Totally. Empty. One member of Westway23 thankfully turned up to witness the perfect analogy for the Trust's existence. Time, energy and money spent, with as little community interaction as possible.
Westway23 specifically requested General Meetings that were open to the public.
General Meetings are essentially an official meeting held by an organisation. They come in 3 ways: Annual General Meeting (AGM); General Meeting (called by the Trustees); Special or Extraordinary General Meeting (called by the Members).
The reasoning behind this specific request was as follows:
a) So that they would be attended by Trustees and Member Organisations (as official meetings Member Organisations in particular would be encouraged to attend).
b) So that minutes would stand as an official and indisputable record (not only something that the Trust could claim was "being made public").
c) So that votes could be taken if necessary.
d) So that Trustees and Executive would be held to carrying out any agreed actions according to LAW.
e) So that the wider community could have some trust in the proceedings.
Westway23 were refused this request. And so in turn we refused the request to promote the events on our Facebook page. We refused to risk significant members of our community wasting their time with a charade of participation.
The significance of this lack of community-led promotion was absolutely stark as FOUR people outside of the campaign steering members turned up across TWO public forum events.
Westway Trust Joint CEO, Alex Russell, claimed that the reason for such poor turnout was "people are probably tired of attending difficult meetings".
Not, "our expensive promotions machine is failing".
Not, "local people are reluctant to attend meetings with an organisation who never listen".
Not, "most people have long since stopped engaging, aside from those who have already committed thousands of collective hours to addressing our failings and are largely responsible for what changes have been seen".
Not, "I understand that people in North Kensington attend many difficult meetings because they are committed to making a difference to their local democracy, but on this occasion I guess we didn't do a very good job of making that happen".
No. The Director of *Communities & Engagement* and joint CEO felt that it was simply the fault of the local people for not turning out in good numbers.
Alex Russell dug further down into this community blame game by then suggesting that the campaign had "intimidated" people into not engaging.
That is a claim that people obviously find insulting. It is also disturbingly reminiscent of her predecessors penchant for promoting a picture of a local community mafia (including an infamous last-minute refusal to attend a local public meeting citing the "safety of her staff").
It is true, Westway23 has been a local campaign intent on intimidating people into paying respect to the needs of local people. Our four year reign of terror has been achieved with the threatening use of musical instruments, obscene artistic flair, dangerous community events, violent open public meetings, intimidating lobbying of the council, hateful networking with other London communities, overbearing support of other local campaigns, forcing people to join our Facebook page and generally being a menace to the people of North Kensington in all their shapes and sizes.
We can understand, given this level of extreme grassroots intimidation, that the Trust has gone ahead with setting up a separate Member Group forum to protect the powerless Member Organisations. Or rather, as we see it further entrench the divisive nature of its leadership by separating community concerns from the legal powers of its Members. Powers we suggest the vast majority of Member Organisations are entirely unaware of, as the following attests to.....
It is claimed that "certain member groups" wish to have separate meetings as they feel the AGM's are "taken over by members of the community" and they are "not able to raise their own agenda items".
(It must be emphasised that in four years of the Trust making claims of "certain member groups", not once have they either named these groups or ever provided a way to bring our concerns together for the good of our community.
Claims have never been specific, only general statements of "other people think differently".
There is little we can do if the detail of that thinking is intentionally kept from us.)
So yes, the AGM's are taken over, unapologetically.
And we can only plead for disgruntled Member organisation's to see it from our perspective.
For four years the AGM's have been the ONLY space in which the wider community can voice our concerns in an official, recorded and publicly accessible (on our insistence) space that is likely to be attended by Member Organisations and Trustees.
NO OTHER FORUM OF THIS KIND EXISTS.
And it still doesn't. Despite insisting on the need for such spaces for four years.
Of course we do apologise if Member Organisation's have felt unable to get through their agenda items.
But, we find it difficult to not lay the responsibility for this at the feet of the Trust.
Westway23 have simply not had it within our control to provide alternative trusted forums to voice our many concerns. The Trust and Members have always - by law - had that power.
We are now in the absurd position where the Trust has finally relented to the demands for a forum, yet are unable to provide the kind we have requested or can have faith in. Worse still, it seems they have intentionally exacerbated division within our community. All due to a situation entirely of their own making.
In failing to provide what is needed by the local community, time has been wasted taking well paid members of staff through the basics of charity law and their very own governing document. This is not how this organisation should be operating, yet such frustrating lessons - which they then ignore or forget - have become a normal facet of its existence.
At this stage perhaps we ought to be invoicing for our services, given their taste for spending money and hiring consultants.
The people who did attend the forum, including a local councillor, delivered an explicit message that we urge others to deliver themselves wherever possible:
- The Westway Trust is a toxic organisation akin to the KCTMO
- The Westway Trust leadership are at the heart of the problem
- Nothing less than the removal of the current leadership of Chair and Executive can hope to deliver radical change (radical change that would be indicated and enabled by them leaving for starters)