The Charity Commission has issued formal advice and guidance to Nottingham Castle Trust over its handling of a race hate incident that took place on castle grounds on 17 August.
The commission opened a regulatory compliance case after a complaint was made by freelance curator and poet Panya Banjoko, who says her grandchildren were racially abused by another child at the site’s adventure playground.
Banjoko criticised the “woefully inadequate” response of the castle’s staff and trustees for adding to the trauma of the incident. She says she was kettled into a corner and told she was being “aggressive”, and says the trust later misrepresented an informal conversation with her that took place after the incident as a formal meeting.
A police investigation has concluded that no criminal offence was committed due to the age of the child involved, but it has been recorded as a hate incident. Museums Journal understands that the child’s guardian has expressed remorse for what happened.
The Charity Commission looked at the trust’s handling of the incident on the day, as well as in the aftermath. The commission has told the trust that “failure to follow the advice issued, in lieu of a reasonable explanation as to why it was not possible, could lead to further engagement with the charity in the future, and may be determined as mismanagement or misconduct”.
A spokeswoman for Nottingham Castle Trust said: “The board has thanked the Charity Commission and has accepted its advice and guidance.
“The trust’s senior leadership team continues to work hard to improve staff training and support which it agrees is essential. Further detail on the improvements that have already been made in relation to training and policies, as well as changes that are planned, will be announced by the trust’s leadership team in the coming days.
“The trust board absolutely agrees that it is important to observe real or perceived conflicts of interest and, although it felt that it acted appropriately at the time, the Charity Commission’s view is fully accepted, and trustees have re-read the guidance.
“The board had no intention of representing what was an attempt to reach out to Ms Banjoko as a ‘formal meeting’ but has no wish to dispute the commission’s findings. The trustees are committed to re-reading the guidance on essential trustee behaviours which have been provided.
“We want to again thank the Charity Commission for its advice as we strive to thoroughly address the complaints made by Ms Banjoko as well as improving support and training for our team.”
The outcome of the compliance case comes after months of turmoil at the trust, including a formal complaint submitted by seven current and former staff of colour, who said the trust's handling of the incident had led to an “atmosphere of fear”.
The trust is also being sued for wrongful dismissal by its former CEO Sara Blair-Manning who was fired on 13 August, days before the incident. Blair-Manning says she was let go a month after making a formal complaint about the trust’s governance.
Since the summer, a number of senior and middle management staff have left, with the interim CEO, Robin Bischert announcing his departure before Christmas, several months earlier than planned. Museums Journal understands that all members of the leadership team that was in place during Blair-Manning’s tenure have now left the trust.
A chief operating officer (COO) has been hired by the trust on a temporary contract. A spokeswoman for the trust said: “Due to a variety of reasons, including the appointment of a COO, it has been agreed that [the CEO] contract will end a few weeks early. Robin has been a fantastic CEO and the trust is now talking to him about how the relationship and his work with the castle can continue.”
Regarding the other staff departures, the spokeswoman said: “There has been a mix of leavers for myriad reasons including end of contracts and secondments, as well as new starters. As part of the review of our management arrangements, the trust is amending roles and creating new posts to reflect what the business now needs.”
Museums Journal understands that there are no plans to recruit replacements for the vacant roles, including CEO, as of yet.
The spokeswoman said: “The castle re-opened in June 2021 and as is expected with a new business, management arrangements have been reassessed and evolved based on the identified need. Our new COO, David Johns carried out that reassessment and was then offered a temporary contract to ensure those recommendations were implemented. Recruitment for a permanent CEO will go ahead in due course.”
The trust has commissioned an independent review of its response to the incident and its wider organisational policies. A report on this is due to be published shortly.