UPDATED (25/08/2015): I received a response from MPFAG and reproduce it underneath this initial letter to MPFAG.
Dear MPFAG members,
There were a number of questions that came to mind when I saw that you were offering to take over as trustees of Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF) from Reading Borough Council (RBC). I have seen this desire repeated several times in our local papers now, however no details have been published with regards to what you would do if you were to become trustees.
I believe that without the support of the majority of the Reading and Mapledurham Parish community it is unlikely that MPFAG will be able to become trustees of the MPF, in that respect, then, isn’t it right and proper that your plans be openly discussed and debated?
Although these questions would apply to any group wishing to take over as MPF trustees, I’d like to pose them directly to you as your group is the only one of which I am aware that has publicly offered to take over the trustee role from RBC.
- What is the process by which you plan to become trustees and what is the timescale over which you see the process completing?
- Many people I have spoken to see an enormous latent potential for MPF to become a real hub of our community. Community groups like Caversham Trents have plans for MPF which could potentially transform how the fields are used and increase the funds brought in to the trust. Assuming that the issue of building a school upon MPF is resolved one way or another, what are your long-term plans for MPF, and how will you fund them?
- The object of the MPF trust is “the provision and maintenance of a recreation ground for the inhabitants of the Parish of Mapledurham and the Borough of Reading without distinction of political, religious or other opinions.” What does MPFAG interpret the meaning of the word ‘recreation’ to mean? For instance, is there a general type of recreational activity that you would rule out supporting on the field?
- How do you plan to manage the fields on a practical level? At the moment, the trustees (RBC) have in place a separate Management Committee who are responsible for the day-to-day practicalities of running MPF. This committee consults with various different people who use the field (I dislike the term ‘user groups’ in this context, be that seems to be the accepted term). How would you differ in your approach?
- How representative are you? Currently, the trustees are from all over Reading, and, albeit theoretically, can be held accountable for their decisions by Reading residents. As trustees, how would you ensure that you fully represent the diverse set of people for whom MPF has been left?
- How would you handle conflicts of interest? For instance, some people may assume that if some of the trustees live near to the fields, those trustees may seek to minimise, for instance, loud recreational activities – such as outdoor movie screenings, or brass bands playing on the fields, or late night organised fireworks displays. Do you know how you might deal with such conflicts?
- If we assume for a moment that The Heights Primary does get a permanent home upon some small part of MPF (or even that EFA is forced to build a permanent school on alternative nearby land if it loses legal challenges with regards to MPF), it’s easy to envisage that that the children, parents and staff of The Heights Primary will become one of the single largest user groups, or at least easily the most regular (in terms of both time spent and frequency of use) users of MPF. I have seen some members of the community imply that The Heights school should be be required to pay punitive fees to be able to hire the fields for school activities, whilst others say that the fields are a community resource and that school children should not be charged to use the fields. My own position is that The Heights could use MPF as a learning resource and in exchange the children can help keep MPF clean, tidy and well gardened for instance. A different solution to this issue might be that the school could commit to donating a certain amount to the MPF trust each year in lieu of not having to organise and pay individual booking fees. If you became trustees of MPF, how would you manage the relationship between the trust and the school?
- How will you take decisions as to what happens at MPF in the future and how will you involve our community in this process?
- What resources – human, technical and financial – are you able to deliver to the trust? At the moment, RBC handle a number of roles. They manage booking inquiries, they set up and run the bank account for the MPF trust, and – following the brief Conservative & Lib Dem coalition in Reading during which an independent investigation found that Section 106 (S106) monies were not being managed as well as they might be – they offered £100,000 of S106 money towards the refurbishment of the pavilion at MPF. The current trustees, then, offer a level of administrative and financial support which would be the bare minimum level for any new trustees to consider. If MPFAG do become trustees, how do you plan to replace the support which RBC currently offers?
- Which, if any, external organisations do you want to see getting involved with the MPF trust, and why?
I appreciate that some of these questions might essentially be different ways of asking around the same or closely related issues, however I think it is important that any group wishing to become trustees of MPF are transparent, consistent and accountable for their plans for our fields. The community for whom the trust has been established should be able to constructively discuss your plans in an open way.
In the spirit of transparency I shall update my blog (http://www.jasonmehmet.org.uk) with your response. I believe this is a quick and easy way for MPFAG to get it’s plans into the public domain without having the expense and limitations of printing and posting leaflets. I look forward to your reply and hope that our community can discussion your plans productively.
Please could you not share my e-mail address publicly. It may be possible to do this inadvertently by printing out my e-mail and sharing with your group, or forwarding this e-mail to your membership. Please don’t do this as the address from which this e-mail is sent is not public and I do not wish it to become public. This letter is publicly available here: http://www.jasonmehmet.org.uk/2015/an-open-letter-to-mpfag.
UPDATE (25/08/2015): I received a response from Martin Brommell, Chairman of Mapledurham Playing Fields Action Group, and quote it in full below. The response doesn’t answer any of the questions I ask, it does however reconfirm the singular purpose of MPFAG.
MPFAG think I should ask some of these questions of the current trustees, which is fair. However, I think that the attitude of the existing trustees is plain to see. As trustees of MPF, Reading Borough Council have not provided and do not now appear to have a long-term strategic plan for MPF. They have been content to let the existing Management Committee handle the site as it sees fit. In short, MPF has not been on their radar, until now.
This is a discussion a large section of the community is involved in, and this blog is public, so I’d be astounded if some or all of the trustees have not already seen my questions, so if any of them – or the Management Committee – can provide answers to the above questions I think that would give us all the foundation for some detailed discussions as to the future of MPF, as well as going a long way to dispelling the idea that has taken hold in some quarters that there is a concerted conspiracy to further develop MPF land after The Heights Primary School has been built.
Below is the response from MPFAG:
In response to your recent letter to MPFAG, I am happy to respond as follows.
The most important issue MPFAG face as a group is not determining what will happen should the existing Charity trustees either step down or be replaced. Our most significant concern is to examine the actions of the current Charity trustees. Indeed, it is probably safe to assume that Reading Borough Council will remain as trustees for a very considerable period (certainly while the EFA are trying to build a school on the Charity land). Perhaps it would be more appropriate for you to send a version of some of your questions to them?
I am sure you will also understand that we view it prudent to dedicate our resources to more urgent issues than answering your questions. In the meantime, if you want more generic information about the duties and responsibilities of a Charity trustee, you might want to refer to the very helpful and compendious material on the Charity Commission’s website.
Chairman – Mapledurham Playing Fields Action Group