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Open Letter from Dartington Estate’s interim CEO, Robert Fedder

Recent weeks have seen a great deal of misinformation about the state of affairs at Dartington Hall, plans for the estate and the role of the Trust. The turnaround team, led by me and engaged by new Trust chair Lord Triesman only this summer, is squarely focused on two things: firstly, continuing to rescue the estate from financial disaster, to which it has been heading for some years; secondly, to develop a strategy for a sustainable recovery so that all stakeholders benefit from a prosperous Dartington for many generations to come.

The present team aims to treat all staff as fairly and generously as possible

At the forefront of our strategy will be preserving the pillars of heritage, culture, education and innovation in sustainability which have, for almost a century, defined Dartington and its relationship with not only the local community, but potentially with those worldwide interested in all forms of arts and music, progressive ideas and nature. Our mission has made good early progress, but there is no ‘big reveal’ to be communicated in the near future and we must continue working hard to successfully conclude several discussions presently underway with potential funders and business partners. These new relationships will dramatically enhance the appeal of Dartington, in turn securing a viable future for the estate and its businesses and encouraging deeper involvement from those who have supported us through very tough times.

Inescapable facts

In the meantime, our team needs to address some misconceptions that will only hinder our mission, to the detriment of all stakeholders. Let’s remember some inescapable facts: while the Trust is a registered charity, it is constrained not to make a continual loss. If it does, everything of value will be lost. All the activities of the Hall and Estate, as administered by the Trust and its executive management, are ultimately commercial businesses; they are not community or social enterprises, nor Community Interest Companies. In this respect, notwithstanding the valued and critical relationship between these entities and the local community, they are not in any official sense accountable in terms of governance, transparency or strategy.

Looking at specific claims:

  • The present team aims to treat all staff as fairly and generously as possible, with appropriate flexibility in contracts and working arrangements to accommodate personal circumstances. No ‘gag orders’ have been made.
  • Local businesses operating on the Estate pay fair, if not favourable, rents. These must include those which have, inexplicably, paid no rent at all on a long term basis.
  • Dartington will always remain a centre for the arts and progressive thinking; our aim is to consolidate and enhance its reputation in those areas.
  • Schumacher College, as an important element of the Estate’s activities, naturally forms part of the present financial and strategic review. There are no plans for closure and it will continue to be an important part of Dartington.

There is huge potential for this beautiful estate and now is the time to harness it.

Better communication?

Since the relatively recent appointment of a turnaround team, the primary focus has been tackling very urgent financial challenges. We continue to address these as a priority, but we now have a little more bandwidth for engaging more proactively with external stakeholders close to home. Early discussions with councillors and businesses very familiar with Dartington have already taken place and we will invest a great deal more time in these important relationships.

The Summer School

One particular rumour from recent days that needs dispelling relates to the Dartington International Summer School and Festival. The Dartington Trust is not moving these to Norfolk. They have both been core activities for us over many years. We are presently reviewing our entire operations, putting existing ones on a sounder footing and exploring new ones. However, moving these proprietary Dartington events to another side of the country is not one of our plans. Anything claiming to be a relocated Dartington event is absolutely not an official, Dartington-branded activity.

I will leave the last word to a prominent local entrepreneur and architect, Ben Morris, owner of the Dolphin Boatyard located at Dartside Quay on the river Dart and himself a former Dartington student. He says:

“It’s good to see that the Dartington Trust’s turnaround plans for the estate include preserving key events, while progressing as a matter of urgency some ideas for generating new revenue that will benefit the community and local businesses, as well as appealing to a new generation of visitors. There is huge potential for this beautiful estate and now is the time to harness it.”

 

Robert Fedder

Dartington Trust

5 December 2023

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Sam Richards
Sam Richards
2 months ago

The Summer School of Music is moving to Norfolk. End of story. Why lie about it?

claire morley
claire morley
2 months ago

Fine words that fail to shed much light and are in direct contrast to the evidence of experience

Graham Howard
Graham Howard
2 months ago

I started working at Dartington in 1984. It was running at a huge loss then ( as stated by the CEO at that time). Made redundant in 2008. It was still making a loss. Wasted years of pie in the sky thinking CEO after CEO. Fortunes spent on buildings only to be left to rot. Any businesses that made a small profit or at the very least coving their cost were dumped along with the people who worked in them. Money wasted on consultants instead of asking people who worked for them and knew the place inside out. The place is so sad, I never return these days.

Andrea Goring
Andrea Goring
2 months ago

And where are my final bills?
6 weeks after eviction, for daring to share the cost of my rent with a lodger- subletting – I still have not received my closing bills.
Until my bills are paid I can’t have my £2000 deposit back.
I’ve sent 6 emails asking for my closing bills and been told ,” new financial software has caused a slight back log”
6 weeks later my deposit not returned.
How am I supposed to finance getting a new place to live.
Inexcusable!

James Boase Snr.
James Boase Snr.
2 months ago

As a family membership member and someone who enjoys the estate on an almost daily basis, I have been puzzled and saddened by what has happened to the green table, surely it would have been better to have preserved what was an extremely strong customer base and gradually address the lack of profit with staff adjustments and price increases, rather than lose said customer base by the dramatic changes that you’ve made.

Andrea Goring
Andrea Goring
2 months ago

DHT told them to get cheaper produce then Put them all on zero hours contracts.
Nobody wanted to work there anymore.
Idiotic was one of only things making money

Anthea Wood
Anthea Wood
2 months ago

So, if one of the main priorities was to “preserve the pillars of heritage, culture, education and innovation in sustainability which have, for almost a century”, why has the International Summer School been shelved? This was the Elmhirsts jewel in the crown and surely is worth preserving?
Of course the need to maintain the business interests of the Estate is important, we live in a very different world to the 1920’s now, but it would seem the very core of the Dartington ideologies is being stripped away in favour of primarily business interests. Surely the two can co- exist?
75 years of Summer school decimated. This was so important to so many people, amateur and professional alike.
Time for a rethink.

Hazel
Hazel
2 months ago

If the Summer School is NOT moving to Norfolk, is it going to run at Dartington on 2024?

Jason Quinn
Jason Quinn
2 months ago

The staff of the Green Table were certainly not treated fairly, so you’ve failed at the first hurdle. Interesting that you didn’t address this in your article.

Liz Taylor Clowes
Liz Taylor Clowes
2 months ago

Hallelujah. At last some sound business common sense. It has been obvious for many years that this has been lacking in the management of this wonderful institution. Dartington is precious to the nation as well as to us locally! Thank you 🙏

Jonathan Smart
Jonathan Smart
2 months ago

What is happening to the Byline Festival in 2024? Will Dartington still host it?

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