St Benedicts Parents and Staff meet to form Action Group
20 May 2006
Sir George invited those parents and staff affected by the sudden closure of St Benedicts Pre School and Nursery to meet at the Guild Hall in Andover, with a view to setting up an Action Group.
"About forty people came to the meeting, with others who were unable to come expressing an interest. At the end of the meeting, I circulated an attendance sheet with people's names and addresses. I asked those interested in being on an Action Group to place a tick against their name and about a dozen did so."
"I plan to circulate this list to all who came and convene another meeting in about a fortnight's time. At that meeting, I would hope an Action Group might be formed, which would then organise meetings with the Catholic Church and Mr Rolfe."
At the beginning of the meeting, Sir George said he deeply regretted that staff and parents - and children - had been the victims of a dispute between the freeholder of St Benedicts on the one hand, and the Catholic Church on the other. The dispute related to the terms on which the freehold of the site had been sold to Mr Rolfe, which had led to the Church registering their interest in the land at the Land Registry. Mr Rolfe's bankers, who were lending against that security, withdrew this facility, which in turn meant the school, which had a twenty one year lease from Mr Rolfe, was unable to continue to trade.
"Members of staff told me that, while tax and national insurance had been deducted from their salaries, the funds had not all been paid over to the Government. In one case, this had led to problems with claiming maternity benefit, because the contribution record was incomplete. Some parents had been asked to pay a terms fee in advance, days before the school closed. Understandably, there was deep concern at the meeting at the suddenness of the closure and the lack of warning or consultation."
Although Mr Rolfe had not been invited to the meeting at the Guild Hall, he arrived shortly after it began. In his view, the responsibility for the collapse lay with the Church, and he said he was in the same position as many of those present, namely he was owed money by the school.
Sir George asked him why no liquidator or receiver had been appointed, to whom claims could be made. Mr Rolfe said that, while it had been his intention to appoint a liquidator, that was no longer going to happen. "The school has an asset, namely the lease on the land and buildings. That lease is being valued by Cluttons. To secure that value, the school has to remain with its current status."
Asked by parents to whom they should write with claims, he said they should write to Mr Fisher, a Trustee of the Pre-School and Nursery. They could do so C/o Penton Lodge and he would see the correspondence was forwarded.
County Councillor David Kirk attended the meeting and said he was prepared to act as an honest broker if that would help.
At the end of the meeting, Sir George said that, while it had not gone exactly as planned, it was an important step forward in finding out what had gone wrong. "I was concerned that individuals were fighting battles on their own, and their interests are all basically the same. So it makes sense to promote collective action."
"I had not expected Douglas Rolfe to come along, but as he did, it seemed right for him to have an opportunity to explain his version of events and answer a few questions. I expect the Church would come up with a different version, and clearly at least two meetings are required to take this forward."
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Copyright Sir George Young Bt. 2015