Your questions answered:
Illustration: HIM's signed deed of gift
“In appreciation of the warm welcome extended to Him by the people of Bath has graciously offered to donate said freehold and leasehold properties to the Corporation [of Bath] for use as a home for aged people…”
Can I visit Fairfield House?
With present COVID restrictions the house is closed to visitors. People are welcome to walk in the grounds anytime and to appreciate the new sacred garden.
Central to our plans after taking on a lease is to open Fairfield House a day a week to the public on a ticketed basis. But under B&NES' control there are no provisions to visit Fairfield House; the only licensed occupant is BEMSCA for day care of the elderly.
Can I camp in the grounds of Fairfield House?
There is no camping at Fairfield House. There are no facilities. Rough sleeping impedes the work of care for the Elders and causes stress and anxiety for BEMSCA staff and Fairfield volunteers. Itinerant or homeless people can be referred to local charitable agencies for assistance. The nearest camp site is in Bitton, a short direct bus ride away.
How can I help Fairfield House?
There are so many ways. Contact us.
Here are answers to in-depth questions submitted by the EWF (London local #3). We are happy to address further questions submitted.
1. What guarantee do we have that the CIC will continue to uphold the wishes of HIM when he entered into a covenant with Bath City Council, to leave Fairfield House as a refuge for the elderly?
The articles of association of Fairfield House Bath CIC bind it to that purpose and are closely based on the words signed by HIM in his deed of gift (see above).
The gift was to the Corporation of Bath. Its successor organisation (after local government reorganisations) is Bath & NE Somerset Council (B&NES).
We expect the lease from Bath & NE Somerset Council to make continuing to fulfil HIM's legacy a condition of the lease, i.e. our expectation is if the CIC falls short of its commitments and community obligations the lease is forfeit.
Note that there will be other requirements such as compliance to environmental and every aspect of equalities law. If the CIC fails in these requirements it is at risk of forfeiting the lease.
2. Why does the CIC desire the transfer away from the local authority? Is this action remaining in the spirit of the Lion of Judah?
B&NES Council wanted to sell Fairfield House for development into private accommodation. It obtained a senior QC legal opinion which declared that was a lawful course of action. With political support from some B&NES Councillors the Friends of Fairfield House (a Community Association) stepped in with a campaign to save the property. The Community Association has set up the CIC so this can become a reality. The CIC wants to transfer Fairfield House away from B&NES' day to day control as we do not feel it is safe or protected with the Council as the prime custodians, given the focus of the Council's statutory duties. To protect the sacred and cultural nature of the house, it needs to be run by an organisation which fully understand its importance and needs of Fairfield’s diverse communities of interest.
The present owner B&NES has no mandate to deal with sacred sites.
The budget B&NES can allocate for the stated purpose (home for the aged) is inadequate for the investment needed to maintain a building such as Fairfield, let alone one of international significance. This has long been evident in the deteriorating condition of the property.
It is therefore inevitable that Fairfield House will always be underinvested if it remains in the direct day to day control of B&NES Council.
Note that B&NES Council would remain the legal owner under the proposal. What is sought is a long lease and partnership with B&NES Council.
Fairfield House Bath CIC bases its approach on HIM’s expressed wish. Given that Fairfield cannot meet contemporary standards for residential care for the elderly we interpret his wish as making the Elders feel at home (for non-residential day care) and putting their interests at the heart of what we propose. However we believe that HIM’s legacy is more significant now than was realised at the time, and it is far more than a building. Whether one is Ethiopian, Rastafari, a local person of Bath (or any combination of these) HIM’s legacy has a unique significance that Fairfield can make tangible. Hence our focus is on HIM’s legacy - the intangible as well as the building.
3. What has the CIC done with the Council in relation to Fairfield House?
B&NES Council has a formal “community asset transfer” process. The details of this are set out here: https://www.bathnes.gov.uk/services/neighbourhoods-and-community-safety/community-asset-transfers The details set out here are important: this is the process under which it is possible to take Fairfield House out of B&NES’ control and secure the future of HIM’s legacy. The Fairfield House Community Association decided to create the CIC as an entity with suitable legal form to enter that process. We have faithfully followed that process, and as of March 2021 we are at step 7 “ draft heads of terms and Partnership Agreement discussed”. We are now pursuing the next steps in B&NES policy. It is an onerous process and we think this represents significant and hard-earned progress.
4. If the CIC should be wound up, what then happens to this asset?
We hope the CIC will succeed, but the evidence is that many companies fail at some point. If that were to happen the asset which is Fairfield House returns to the owner B&NES.
The legal form CIC includes an “asset lock” which means assets of a CIC cannot be taken out of the CIC except to another similarly “asset locked” body (eg a charity such as BEMSCA would qualify). But under the terms of the lease Fairfield House would go back to B&NES and we would be back where we are today.
5. How can we maintain the Ras Taferi community’s interest?
That must be for the Rastafari community to decide. For our part we propose to continue to welcome the monthly sabbath and other celebrations.
We would be happy for Rastafari organisations and EWF to rent a room to have a permanent presence at Fairfield. We cannot undertake to do that free of charge when there are running costs and we need to repair the roof. But the CIC is a not for profit, we’re all volunteers, we would seek to agree modest and concessionary rates.
6. Who has overall responsibility for the running of the house?
Today by default this falls to BEMSCA who already have a heavy burden of day care for the elderly and who are under resourced for the services they provide. That is not sustainable. The CIC would take on this responsibility, and we would need to hire an operations manager (part time initially, full time by year three).
7. Is there any plans to make Fairfield House a residence for the aged by providing accommodation
This has been done in the past in precise accordance with HIM’s stated wish. But it is problematic: the c19th domestic building does not meet contemporary standards (including accessibility, insulation) for housing old people. So there are practical and legal obstacles. Also there is no economic model where anyone is paid an amount to look after Elders which provides to maintain a building like Fairfield House to do it in. It would also prevent access and use of other sorts, which would represent a great loss. So we do not plan to make it a residential care home, no. But it is central to our proposals that the Elders - particularly black and BAME Elders - would always feel at home at Fairfield House.
8. How much of the surrounding land belongs to Fairfield House?
Most of the original garden (“Empress Menen garden”) is now owned by Curo Housing Association, with sheltered housing which is maybe not beautiful but is at least in accordance with HIM’s stated wish. This land is not for sale.
Our expression of interest is to take on Fairfield House and its immediate curtilage, including the caretaker's bungalow (37 Burleigh Gardens) which now includes the sacred garden, site of HIM and Empress Menen’s chapel in the greenhouse.
9. How much of the surrounding land is available for building on?
We believe the bungalow site could be redeveloped e.g. for suitable education assembly and reception purposes. This would be a major community-driven project. It would require significant capital investment, and also planning permission. We think that is the only site that could be built on.
10. Is it just the house that’s owned or are the garages and the small house beside the garages part of Fairfield House grounds?
The caretaker's bungalow and its garden are included in our Expression of Interest. We believe two of the three garages are included; this needs clarification .
11. Do the Directors of the CIC have any specific areas of expertise and what further roles are required?
The present directors and their skills are:
Ras Benji - Rastafari historian and company director of online business; legal education.
Blaine Dowdle - Rastafari entrepreneur in Canada and Jamaica
Celia Mead - Heritage projects interim CEO, National Trust and museums experience, expertise in funding applications and income generation
Dr. Shawn Sobers - Rastafari academic, filmmaker, faith and cultural expertise
William Heath - Entrepreneur, track record of social-enterprise startups in Bath
BEMSCA director Pauline Swaby attends Board meetings.
A fully functioning Board would need strong legal, financial, governance and compliance. We believe it’s healthy to have a turnover of Board directors once a company is established. We think for Fairfield House Bath CIC it’s essential to reflect community diversity and desirable to have a majority of directors of African origin (whether Ethiopian, Caribbean, British).
12. Since installation in March 2019 is there anything that the CIC has done that hasn’t been previously raised?
At this point the CIC does not have any control or responsibility for Fairfield, so things that have happened at Fairfield (such as creating the library, the sacred garden) have not been done by us.
Our principal achievements have been to set up the company, bank account, LocalGiving facility, secure a donation and paid cultural partnership with Bath Spa University and engage with B&NES on the community asset transfer process. We have also appointed Stone King as solicitors for when the process gets serious.
13. CIC usually have a mix of income including contracts, trading income and grants – what does the CIC envisage its top sources of income to be?
Opening Sundays to the public with £8/ticket
Cultural partnerships with Universities
Renting rooms at Fairfield to organisations consistent with HIM’s broader legacy
Possibly: trading, events
Educational programming for Local/National Schools
The biggest expenditures would be to redevelop the bungalow site, refurbish Fairfield House itself to heritage standards. This is only affordable with significant capital investment (e.g. National Lottery Heritage or multi-million pound legacies from highly motivated wealthy individuals or foundations). We plan on the basis that Fairfield House would be successful in attracting that level of capital grant if the communities involved approach the challenge with unity of purpose.