Statement on SDHH, Sea Fest and My Role

The following statement was circulated to Friends of Sidmouth Drill Hall on 10th May 2017. The same applies to Sea Fest 2018.

In response to enquiries on Sidmouth Sea Fest and Sidmouth Drill Hall Hub CIC

I have had a number of people ask me about my involvement in Sidmouth Sea Fest this year, as well as stall holders, musicians, the media and others who have contacted me about the event in general and about Sidmouth Drill Hall Hub CIC.

This is not a particularly easy thing to write about and I apologise for the lengthy and serious nature of this email which I have tried to keep as brief as possible. I will put full statements up at some point on the and websites.

It is clear that the message, if any, that has been given out on this is that I have been happy with and party to changes that have led to myself and another founder of Sidmouth Sea Fest and original director of the CIC being written out of all present and future involvement in both the event and the company. This is not, and has never been, the case.

On 4th January 2017 changes were made to the company without our knowledge or approval, and before a scheduled meeting was held to begin to discuss the company’s future following a prolonged period of internal discussion some of which was documented in 2016 on websites and in the media.

Within two weeks of this we were both removed from the Board of the CIC, again without our knowledge or approval, and without due process. This has led to no end of confusion which I am now having to deal with almost daily.

It also remains under investigation by Companies House.

I held off from sending anything out on this in part because I needed distance from what had gone on around it, because there is too much to cover, and because emails such as this one can be pretty unbearable to those that receive them, frankly. Plus I also still have, despite everything, the same fondness and respect for the Bagwell family that I have always had. This is not to do with them.

But I had an attachment to both the CIC and Sea Fest that went well beyond some peripheral involvement in both, despite claims by some to the contrary having formed them both, and as the Sea Fest continues without me, and knowing the background to this has not been properly represented by others with plenty of opportunity to do so, then I believe that it is necessary to get this out.

Hard as it is for me personally the event and the company I founded to support it and take forward the Drill Hall campaign that began back in 2011, and the many years of hard work around all of it, will be gone after this weekend. Over the space of little more than two months it was pretty ruthlessly hijacked.

Aside of the personal element, this is not a situation that should be taken lightly. Sidmouth Drill Hall Hub CIC turned over in the region of £100,000 in its first two years of trading. The 2015 Sea Fest event took £9,000 in bar, food and ticket sales alone. Despite many attempts since the event in 2015 to do so the situation, to take just one example, around the food and bar concessions has not been discussed or agreed in any way. These were all run by Saul Vicary who was ruthlessly cut out. Sea Fest was founded initially from a discussion over a garden fence by Saul and I about selling fish baps in an army tent with a shanty choir and in direct relation to the Drill Hall campaign and TourFish project that over two years focussed on, and raised essential awareness of, the coast, inshore fishing, and fishing heritage in Sidmouth. It grew quite rapidly from there, but with a considerable number of questions that needed to be answered and never were.

A lot of people also donated to the CIC either directly, as a Friend of the campaign, or via attending Sea Fest. I have been contacted by many of those people. Again, those donations were specifically towards the campaign around the Drill Hall. Nothing else. Nothing to do with printing fish or education, noble as both are. There is an opportunity and place to develop both. But this isn’t it.

But I will say in response to queries that I and others have personally long supported the creation of an arm of Sidmouth Drill Hall Hub CIC, or indeed a separate organisation, as an outcome of TourFish that would focus solely on education and community based work linked to fishing and the coast, initially using the funding obtained from the Devon Education Fund for a series of workshops run in Devon schools. I even set the film up in October 2016. But that is not Sidmouth Drill Hall Hub CIC. It was not why the company was set up, developed, and grown through committed hard work over a considerable period of time, and it was not what over 400 people signed up to as Friends. We were able to stage and grow Sea Fest because of that, a business growing in value, and a healthy relationship with the bank based on my raising over £100,000 in the first year of trading. Behind that is considerable hard work, risk taking, long term vision and more. We had built the opportunity to develop products linked to our work towards forming a very strong social enterprise. Now, without the company it will not be possible to start over.

At the beginning of 2016 we had a number of external partners looking to work with us on the campaign via the CIC, including a very positive proposal in August from the team behind the restoration of Hastings Pier. This was rejected by some members of the Board. It stood to highlight the internal divisions and that the company needed time to be properly reassessed. It also showed that despite its not-for-profit status, perhaps interests for all needed to be considered and protected. Many people have done well from Sidmouth Drill Hall Hub either in cash or in kind and none of this has at any point been represented to the Friends or anyone else.

Either way, a new company in the form of what then became the Coastal Community Hub (again via reconstituting the company without notice, agreement or approval) that has a different objective, should certainly not be benefitting from the outset by taking over without proper process the assets and considerable value of a business created through a consistent amount of hard work over a sustained period and with different objectives.

Others will have to judge the extent to which I was personally involved in Sidmouth Drill Hall Hub CIC and the creation and running of Sidmouth Sea Fest, but in being written out I was told as per the ‘resolution’ email that I received announcing my removal from the Board, that my contribution would be ‘acknowledged’. You can download that email here and the ‘resolution’ here 

I did not at any point resign from the Board and was quite happy with my future and where I believed Sidmouth Drill Hall Hub and Sea Fest should, and could, go next. It has been over 5 years of my life.

Reading the attached email and ‘resolution’ gets no easier, and no less incredible, each time and I am both gutted and angry to have been undone in such a way. A lesson has been learned even now on who to trust, what you protect and what you give away how and when no matter what the situation. Sea Fest should not be going ahead until all of this and more is sorted and without the decency of those behind it to at least give others the information and the opportunity to be properly informed.

Hopefully that begins to answer some questions.