Former police chief brought in to take reins at Doncaster charity after Charity Commission probe

A Doncaster charity has brought in a new boss and vowed to bounce back after receiving the all clear after an investigation by the Charity Commission.

Wednesday, 11th September 2019, 9:52 am

The new man at the top of the Victoria Cross Trust is a former senior police officer, and he has confirmed that the charity will continue to operate after the previous boss left following concerns over the organisation's finances.

He hopes the charity and its museum will remain in Doncaster - but it looks set to have to move from its current base, a former borough school building.

Former South Yorkshire Police chief superindent, Keith Lumley, is now running trust, based at Ashworth Barracks Museum, in Balby, after its previous chairman and chief executive, Gary Stapleton, stood down after concerns over the organisations finances were raised by the charities commission.

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Volunteer Paul Grimley at the Victoria Cross Trust's Ashworth Barracks Museum on Cedar Road, Balby, Doncaster
Volunteer Paul Grimley at the Victoria Cross Trust's Ashworth Barracks Museum on Cedar Road, Balby, Doncaster

Mr Stapleton launched the charity in 2012 to restore the graves of servicemen who were awarded the VC - Britain's highest honour for military bravery.

The charity has received over £1 million in income since 2014, including cash from grants. But the Charity Commission raised concerns that it had no financial information had been received from last year and launched an investigation.

New chairman Mr Lumley, from Doncaster, is also an expert on military history who has given lectures on the subject on cruise ships

He said that the current position was that the Charity Commission had now closed the case and was now happy with the way the organisation was operating.

1940's weekend at Ashcroft Barracks in Balby. Picture Scott Merrylees

The trust is now operating as normal, and its Ashworth Barracks Museum, on Cedar Road, is open as usual.

Mr Lumley said: "As far as the trust in concerned, we have started cleaning graves again, and we did one for a winner of the medal, Thomas Pride, in Poole, in Dorset, last week.

"The museum has been open throughout."

Thomas Pride was awarded his Victoria Cross while serving with the Royal Navy off the coast of Japan in 1864. He carried the Queen's Colours into action in the capture of the enemy's defensive barrier. He and another sailor kept the flag flying despite heavy, which fire severely wounded Pride and killed his colleague.

Steve Russell and Carl Dixon at the 1940's weekend at Ashcroft Barracks in Balby. Picture Scott Merrylees

The trust was open recently for its 1940s Day, which saw 1940s re-enactors attend the venue in World War Two uniforms to talk about how soldiers fought during the war. Guided tours of the museum were also running as usual, and contiunie to do so.

The Charity Commission has issued a statement on the trust. It stated: “We have concluded our regulatory compliance case into the Victoria Cross Trust. We are satisfied that, based on information available to us, the trustees are taking appropriate steps to address concerns that were raised.

"We have issued the trustees with formal regulatory advice under section 15(2) of the Charities Act which makes clear steps they should take around strengthening their governance arrangements and financial controls. The trustees should comply fully with our advice, and we expect them to keep us updated on any significant developments. Charities play vital roles in society; as regulator, we are committed to ensuring charity can thrive.”

Hunt for new site

Pictured is Chief Supt Keith Lumley, during his time with South Yorkshire Police

The Victoria Cross Trust is currently in talks over its future location - as its lease on the former school building where it is based is set to end next year.

Trustees are in talks with Doncaster Council and hope to reach an agreement to keep the museum in Doncaster, which Mr Lumley still believes is the best venue for the organisation's offices and museum.

The lease on the school building, which holds a collection of ex-military artifacts and details the stories of Victoria Cross heroes, is due to come to an end in June 2020.

There is optimism that a new venue can be found. Some of the museum's collection of military vehicles, which are sited outside the building, have been sold in case it does not have enough space for them in any future site.

Mr Lumley said: "If we don't find new premises by next April, we will have to close the museum.

"We hope that we will be able to find appropriate premises or have the lease extended.

"We are really grateful for the support that we have had, but we have to address the matter. This site is not going to be available to us forever, and we have until June, unless we can agree some sort of rolling programme with the council.

"But we have a new management team in place, and volunteers have come back and visitor numbers have started to increase again.

"It's a family attraction and its concept is proven. It is one of the highest rated attractions in Doncaster on Trip Advisor, and there are a number of VC recipients with Doncaster links, and we're building relationships with Doncaster schools.

"We want to keep the museum in Doncaster, and will be looking for anyone who can help us in terms of premises.

"All the indications are that people are prepared to to support us. We would not want to see it leave Doncaster but it is possible that it could

Dave Wilkinson, assistant director of trading and property services, at Doncaster Council, said: “We are continuing to work closely with the Trust to help search for potential new sites for the museum. We had extended the current lease for a further year to give them more time to find a new home but this will come to an end in June 2020.”

The volunteers

Sitting in the Victoria Trust's offices in the organisation's Ashworth Barrack's museum, Paul Grimley is familiar with the equipment displayed at the attraction.

Paul, from Dunscroft, spent 13 years serving with the RAF Regiment between 1973 and 1986, rising to the rank of corporal, before leaving to take up a job in civilian life. Now he runs battlefield tours in France, when he is not volunteering in Balby.

When the Ashworth Barracks Museum opened, he was among those who offered his services as a volunteer, helping run the site and taking tours around the venue.

He said: "There are lot of volunteers here who put in long hours. There are people who take the tours, people working in the kitchen, people working in the grounds.

"It is a passion and they want to work here. Most of us are ex-services and fully appreciate the value of what it takes to get a VC, and with that I think we feel that these people need to be honoured and respected."

"I've been involved since a few months after it opened.

"The museum is about fund raising for the trust."