Leaveners’ final act

Harry Albright reports on an extraordinary general meeting

Friends at the EGM. | Photo: Harry Albright.

After forty years, the final curtain has come down on the Leaveners, the Quaker performing arts charity. An extraordinary general meeting held on 4 March in Birmingham, attended by twenty-three people, made the decision after hearing that the organisation was no longer financially viable.

Peter Fishpool, one of the Leaveners trustees, told the meeting that the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, which had provided core funding for many years, had changed its priorities and withdrawn its grant aid from 2016. Efforts to raise funds to cover operational costs had not been successful.

Peter said: ‘Although we could get some bits of little project money, that is for the overheads of a specific project, nobody came in with any grants of any sort big enough that we could cream off enough for our basic admin and core functioning.’

He added that none of the funders were prepared to cover core funding and so ‘it’s proved impossible to have that line of income’. Therefore, the director, José Forrest-Tennant, was made redundant at the end of February.

Peter also said that the Leaveners has a liability to the Pensions Trust, which is estimated at £36,000. This is because of a shortfall in Pension Trust funds that needs to be met by member organisations. Now that the Leaveners no longer has any employees contributing, that liability has fallen due. He stressed that there was more than enough in the charity’s reserves to meet that obligation.

‘So, we met at the end of January and decided that the sensible thing was to close down the charity in its present format, settle that pensions liability and see where that took us. When we’ve settled all our debts, it says in the constitution that any money that we have left over would revert to Britain Yearly Meeting,’ Peter said.

After a discussion about the practicalities involved, the meeting minuted: ‘The meeting agrees to lay down the Leaveners registered charity no. 292499 in good order and as soon as feasible, passing on any remaining funds, for the use of Quaker Life, to Britain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends as laid down in the constitution.’

The meeting heard that there were some activities that might continue in a different manner, including the chamber music and choral group, which will continue under the working name of Quaker Music Network. There was also a suggestion from the Quaker Arts Network that some work could carry on under its umbrella, and a proposal from one of the founders of the Leaveners, Alec Davison, to form a group called The Singing Quakers to promote music and singing within the Yearly Meeting. The meeting minuted that it had heard these proposals. While there was a hope expressed that some funds could be made available to support these proposals before the charity officially closes, no decision was made, and it was left to the trustees to look at what was possible as they worked to lay the charity down.

There was also discussion about whether the name of the Leaveners would live on with some of this ongoing work. The sense of the meeting was that the name should not continue, and it was further minuted: ‘The meeting asks the trustees to make a public statement when laying down the charity that they also lay down the name of the Leaveners.’

The meeting also agreed that the current four trustees – clerk Patrick Jones, Ed Blann, Helen Coll and Peter Fishpool – should remain in office for as long as it takes to complete the work of laying the charity down. The meeting concluded with a minute of thanks. ‘We are grateful for the vision and for all those who have worked to realise it over forty years.’

Posters and programmes from productions by the Leaveners were among the memorabilia in a special display presented at the extraodrinary annual general meeting held in Birmingham. | Photo: Harry Albright.

Correction (14 March 2017): The meeting referred to was an ‘Extraordinary General Meeting’ and not an ‘Emergency General Meeting.’ The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust did not ‘withdraw’ funding but said they would not be funding the arts charity ‘in two years time’ – and then funded it for an extra year.

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