Call made for inquiry into food bank
Key figures urged to stand down
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