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An Open Letter To Dartington Trust

As the restructuring of Dartington Trust continues, local people are being asked to support a letter written by village resident Adrian Porter.
He says the “detached manner of governance” must end. The letter has been sent to the parish council and Totnes Town Council for their support.

In his open letter, published here in the Pulse, the interim CEO Robert Fedder made no bones about the fact his team are here to rescue the estate from financial disaster. We wait to see who the potential new funders and business partners are and what they are planning.

Adrian, in his letter, asks that 60% of trustees are local people and this is discussed at the Trust’s next board meeting. “The long term liability of the Trust and estate depends on a much greater involvement of the local community,” he says. Will the new team at the Hall agree?

As Mr Fedder pointed out, the Trust’s activities are not social enterprises, but commercial, and “they are not in any official sense accountable in terms of governance, transparency, or strategy.
The parish council meets at 7pm on Wednesday, December 13 at the village hall. The public are welcome to speak – so have your say!

And tell Totnes Pulse what you think. Comment below.

The letter is here.

Dear David, Robert, and Trustees of the Board of Dartington Hall Trust,

Representation from the Community of Dartington and Totnes to the Dartington Hall Trust
We, as individuals and representatives of the community of Dartington and Totnes, and those people with a sincere care for the welfare, longevity, and success of the Dartington Hall Trust, wish to contribute to steering Dartington through its current time of difficulty to a new stage in its existence, building on its rich legacy to realise its place and role in the 21st century and all of the challenges and opportunities that this presents.

Since the Elmhirst’s ‘social experiment’ at Dartington commenced in the mid 1920’s, individuals, such as students, artists, healers, ecologists and pioneers, from near and far have been attracted to Dartington. They have been influenced by its ideals and were looking to be a part of that what is undertaken here, in the form of the legacy of its past, and their hope to be part of a new unfolding. It has attracted uniquely talented and motivated individuals from near and far. This has resulted in many choosing to stay in Totnes and Dartington, build their lives here, establish new ethical and creative livelihoods here, and form new families here which has led to the creation of the uniquely talented, dynamic, creative, ethically entrepreneurial, and capable population of Totnes and Dartington. Almost entirely these people wish the best for Dartington, the work of the Trust and the future longevity of the Estate.

There is a feudal history to the Dartington Estate, of lords and laymen, that has existed for many centuries ‘ ‘those up on the hill‘ and ‘those down in the village.’ Although without intention, it feels that, again without intention, this structural legacy and energy of management is still in place: ‘knowing what is best’, interest to be ‘in control‘ and expensively ‘buying in’ expertise and advice. Together, we feel that the often misjudged decision making of the Trust in recent years and decades is, at its core, the result of an increasing degree of detachment between the senior management of the Trust and the local community. Demonstrating this, we understand that in the current Board of Trustees and Interim CEO, all but two individuals live outside the area local to Totnes and Dartington.

It is our view that the Trust has for decades followed a pattern of appointing Trustees who periodically visit Dartington with their valuable skills and interests, but are not embedded here to facilitate and include local feeling, opportunities and frustrations. Local entrepreneurs, experts and visionaries have been, and still are often apparently overlooked as seemingly irrelevant. A long list of examples of disappointment and frustration can be reeled off by, it seems, almost countless local individuals. Their ideals and commitment to create positive change have consistently resulted in feeling brushed off, burnt, and rejected in their dealings with the Trust over a number of decades now. It is also the often unexplained and undiscussed decision making which has contributed to the perception of the Trust not being ‘transparent’. The common thread through this is detachment of Dartington Hall Trust from the local community; from those who care most for its continuity and success.

The local community has by and large come to feel disenfranchised, but the Trust itself has lost out by not benefitting from the unique creative and ethical entrepreneurial expertise and commitment that constitutes a significant part of the population of Totnes and Dartington. This has been a dual loss and now, at this stage of financial and directional difficulty for the Trust, is the time to change this pattern and for it to pursue a new track into the future reflecting more closely the opportunity and challenge of our times.
Indeed we are in rapidly changing times. Connection, judgement, and sound decision making cannot take place by a senior management team who do not live embedded in the life of Dartington and all that happens, and has the potential to happen, here.

Decision making by a Board of physically and energetically distant focused Trustees, meeting infrequently to make decisions on the basis of advice received from similarly distant senior management, is not sound nor in the best interest of the future of Dartington. Distant and uninvolved management was never characteristic of the great social experiment under the Elmhirsts, and now, out of both necessity and opportunity, is the time for this rebalancing to occur to lead the Trust into a new stage in its journey.

In short, the existing senior management structure has allowed the Trust to sink into the current unhappy situation and the time is well overdue for it to significantly change.
With this understanding, and with shared agreement, we both request and advise that the management structure of the Dartington Hall Trust be changed to reflect the following

  • – A minimum of 60% of Trustees should live within 10 miles of the Dartington Hall Estate.
  • – The CEO, and Chair of Trustees should likewise live in the same vicinity.
  • – The Dartington Hall Membership should have a role in both nominating and vetoing new Trustees.

We accept that changes need to occur in the management of Dartington to rebalance financial incomings and outgoings, involving difficult choices, for the Trust to remain financially viable. We also feel that the long-term viability and success of the Trust depends on a much greater involvement of the local community in Estate based activities in the form of businesses, practitioners, educators, artists, ethical entrepreneurs, pioneering landworkers and many others. Alongside this is the need for a new start: structural management change is key. We request that this proposition be presented at your next Board meeting.
As community representatives we are very happy to discuss and explore this matter with you as CEO, Chair and Trustees of the Board.
We appreciate the work and commitment you have undertaken, and continue to undertake, to secure the longevity and future of the Trust.


Adrian Porter,  Dartington.

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