Call made for in­quiry into food bank

Key fig­ures urged to stand down

Rossendale Free Press - - Front Page - CHAR­LOTTE GREEN char­lotte.green@trinitymirror.com @CharGreenMEN

CHAR­LOTTE GREEN

ACALL for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion has been made after an anony­mous on­line blog chal­lenged pay­ments a vol­un­teer al­legedly re­ceived from a food bank.

Caroline Collins, of the Raft Foun­da­tion, told the Free Press that she was paid the money for work­ing in ‘as­so­ci­a­tion’ with the or­gan­i­sa­tion as a ‘community or­gan­iser’.

She was re­spond­ing to al­le­ga­tions made in an anony­mous on­line blog about pay­ments she re­ceived from the foun­da­tion.

It has led to the leader of Rossendale Coun­cil Alyson Barnes to call for the foun- da­tion to re­spond to the claims, while county coun­cil­lor for Mid Rossendale, David Fox­croft, said that Ms Collins and her part­ner Mark Sta­ple­ton, who is chair­man of Raft, should step aside to al­low an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion to take place.

ACALL for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion has been made after an anony­mous blog chal­lenged pay­ments a vol­un­teer al­legedly re­ceived from a food bank.

Caroline Collins, of the Raft Foun­da­tion, told the Free Press that she was paid the money for work­ing in ‘as­so­ci­a­tion’ with the or­gan­i­sa­tion as a ‘community or­gan­iser’ (CO).

She was re­spond­ing to al­le­ga­tions made on an anony­mous on­line blog about pay­ments she re­ceived from the foun­da­tion.

It has led to the leader of Rossendale Coun­cil Alyson Barnes to call for the foun­da­tion to re­spond to the claims, while county coun­cil­lor for Mid Rossendale, David Fox­croft, said that Ms Collins and her part­ner Mark Sta­ple­ton, who is chair­man of Raft, should step aside to al­low an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion to take place.

The Raft Foun­da­tion, pro­vides food bank ser­vices for peo­ple liv­ing in Rossendale, and de­liv­ers around 1,000 meals a week.

It has a num­ber of drop off points in stores across the Val­ley and also ac­cepts mon­e­tary do­na­tions through its web­site.

Raft is a ‘con­sti­tuted community group’ which does not have char­ity sta­tus, but Ms Collins has pre­vi­ously told the Free Press that the group was ex­plor­ing the op­tion of go­ing for char­ity sta­tus later this year.

Ms Collins said she was seek­ing le­gal ad­vice about the al­le­ga­tions made on­line, but said that vol­un­teers would de­cide whether she and Mr Sta­ple­ton should step down.

She said that an ex­ter­nal au­dit was be­ing car­ried out into the group’s fi­nances.

Ms Collins told the Free Press that her fund­ing for the CO role was ‘to­tally sep­a­rate’ to the do­na­tions peo­ple make to the food bank, and was se­cured through match and grant fund­ing from ex­ter­nal bod­ies.

She said that she had been work­ing with Raft en­tirely on a vol­un­tary ba­sis since Jan­uary.

She said: “I was one of 500 community or­gan­is­ers across the coun­try who suc­cess­fully com­pleted the first year of train­ing.

“I was still vol­un­teer­ing at Raft at the time as I have been for the last four years.

“The Community Or­gan­iser [role] was not to run the food bank, it just hap­pened to en­hance [the food bank].”

She said money paid in as do­na­tions was dealt with sep­a­rately to grants that funded her CO role, but she con­firmed that it was all paid out from the same bank ac­count.

She added: “We have asked an ac­coun­tant to look at the last five years be­cause we are in the process of com­plet­ing an ex­ter­nal au­dit of all five years and that will be re­leased and pub­lished on the web­site when it’s com­pleted.”

Ms Collins said that £9,500 that was put for­ward by Raft as match fund­ing to se­cure the ini­tial fund­ing for her CO role from the Of­fice of Civic So­ci­ety had it­self been funded by an ear­marked grant from Lan- cashire County Coun­cil - and could not be spent within the food bank.

She told the Free Press: “The fund­ing that was held at that time was held by the Raft Foun­da­tion specif­i­cally as that match fund­ing. That had to be spent in that project and if it wasn’t spent we had to re­turn it.

“I am not go­ing to tell you how much has gone into my pay packet. I find this in­tru­sive.”

How­ever Ms Collins con­firmed that a se­ries of with­drawals from the Raft Natwest ac­count to­talling at least £2,800 were made and used to buy fresh food items to give to strug­gling fam­i­lies, but ad­mit­ted this was not ‘best prac­tice’.

She said: “It’s not best prac­tice, it would be much eas­ier if we had on­line banking, that’s some­thing we have asked the ac­coun­tant to look at.

“When you asked to buy cer­tain items you have to get the money re­im­bursed. The ac­coun­tant is look­ing at sys­tems for us. There are re­ceipts for ev­ery penny that was spent. But there will al­ways be a cash el­e­ment un­less we stop do­ing fresh food.”

She said: “As long as we have food do­na­tions com­ing in we will con­tinue to give out what we re­ceive.

“I don’t feel the need to be hung, drawn and quar­tered on so­cial me­dia and a lot of peo­ple want a fair and open in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The max­i­mum dam­age is be­ing caused to the func­tion­al­ity of the or­gan­i­sa­tion by these al­le­ga­tions. The bot­tom line is that Raft con­tin­ues to go for­ward. And the vol­un­teers will de­cide at the meet­ing how they want to go for­ward.”

Rossendale Coun­cil leader Alyson Barnes de­scribed the al­le­ga­tions as ‘clearly se­ri­ous’. She said: “Raft need to re­spond to them.”

The coun­cil has given around £7,500 to Raft in neigh­bour­hood fo­rum grants.

County coun­cil­lor for Mid Rossendale, David Fox­croft said that Ms Collins and her part­ner Mark Sta­ple­ton, who is chair­man of Raft, should step aside to al­low an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion to take place.

He said: “The al­le­ga­tions are very con­cern­ing. They can’t carry on in their ca­pac­ity with the or­gan­i­sa­tion, they’ve got to al­low what has been raised to be in­ves­ti­gated trans­par­ently and in­de­pen­dently.

“And I think it is im­por­tant for the fam­i­lies across the Val­ley who rely on what Raft do, this is an un­wanted dis­trac­tion and I think it’s im­per­a­tive that they should step aside at this mo­ment in time so it doesn’t cause fur­ther harm to Raft as an or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

Fol­low­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of the on­line al­le­ga­tions, Raft re­leased a state­ment say­ing it would re­spond to a ‘ma­li­cious and li­belous mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of its work’ once it had ap­pro­pri­ately pre­pared a fur­ther state­ment.

Mr Sta­ple­ton could not be con­tacted for com­ment as we went to press

l● Caroline Collins

Caroline Collins pic­tured at the RAFT Foun­da­tion in Rossendale

County Coun­cil­lor David Fox­croft

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.