Serious questions for the Brockwell Swimmer

More than a month ago, I was censored by the Brockwell Swimmer on this Forum for asking questions about the swimming club called Brockwell Swimmers that he has invented. He took down my comment on his news story and prevented all further comment by anyone else on it. Frustrated by this censorship, I put up my own news item on the Forum, which has attracted its fair share of comment, positive and negative, none censored. But a month on and not one of the questions I asked then has been answered. They are important, serious questions for someone seeking the trust of the public by setting up an organisation.

 

Once again, here they are:

 

1 Was the AGM that, according to the website, approved the Brockwell Swimmers Constitution on 27 January, legally convened? To be specific, was the AGM widely advertised, first on the Brockwellswimmers.com website itself, on social media such as Twitter and Facebook and in local businesses, so all interested parties could attend? Was due notice of at least two weeks given? Was the purpose—to approve a constitution and elect officers—clearly stated in all the publicity?

 

This goes to the heart of the legitimacy of the founding of this club.

 

2 Where are the draft minutes of the annual general meeting of 27 January 2016? What was the numbers of members present and did they sign a register as proof of attendance? By what method was the constitution adopted and what discussion of it was there, including of the membership fee and the accepting of members under the age of 18?

 

3 What are the names of the elected officers and committee mentioned in the message to the Herne Hill Forum?

 

4 Is Brockwell Swimmers a bona fide, open organisation, owned by its members, like Brockwell Lido Users (BLU) (1500 members), or is it the private property of one person, Tim Sutton? The Terms and Conditions of the website—which all would-be members must agree to—seem to indicate the second is the case: “The term ‘BrockwellSwimmers.com’ or ‘us’ or ‘we’ refers to the owner of the website.”

 

If Brockwell Swimmers is the private property of one person, how can it be a democratic, open club?

 

5 Is there or is there not a fee for joining Brockwell Swimmers? Sections 3c, 4a and 4b of the Constitution, adopted on 27 January, all mention such a fee and Mr Sutton says he has set up a club bank account. But the recent publicity, including on the website and on the Forum, says it is free—which is presumably not constitutional. But if membership is actually free, what are the club’s sources of finance—Mr Sutton’s private funds?

It is all rather confusing, where financial probity and clarity are such important matters if you are seeking public trust. It is also vital we know the name and fitness for office of the treasurer.

 

6 As the Constitution clause 3c mentions taking memberships from people under the age of 18, is anyone in Brockwell Swimmers approved by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) to be in charge of the club’s youth members, thus preventing unsuitable people from having access to vulnerable groups, including children?

7 How transparent and inclusive is the membership process? Section 3a says ‘Membership is limited to swimmers who regularly use the Brockwell Lido pool’, which is clear, but 3d says ‘the Committee may decide whether or not to reject an application for membership’.

Appeals against rejection are decided by … the Committee that rejected it in the first place (3e). Judge and jury in its own case, rather than an independent appeal process: that is not best practice in a democratic institution.

It was worrying when these questions were originally censored, because it made it appear as if Mr Sutton had no answers to them. Now, a month after they were first put, failure to answer them promptly and in full must surely lay open to serious doubt the legitimacy of Brockwell Swimmers as a trustworthy club.

Comments

In answer to your questions:

1. Our first meeting was not an AGM.

2. Minutes are available to members.

3. Details of officers are available to members.

4. As outlined in our constitution, Brockwell Swimmers is an open and democratic organisation.

5. Our present membership fee is £0.

6. To our knowledge we have no members under the age of 18.

7. Annual membership can be registered via our web site www.brockwellswimmers.com

If you have any further questions please contact us directly via our web site.

Regards.

Tim Sutton
(Club Chair)

I’m afraid these contemptuous answers to serious questions that Tim Sutton (TS) has had more than a month to reflect on simply will not wash. They do nothing to assuage the serious doubts raised about the founding, funding and ownership of Brockwell Swimmers, doubts so serious as to question its legitimacy in its present form.

For the third time, here are those serious questions:

 

1 I asked if the meeting to adopt a constitution and elect officers of Brockwell Swimmers was properly advertised ie openly and in correct form.

 

TS reply: ‘Our first meeting was not an AGM.’

 

Most democratic organisations choose to adopt a constitution and elect officers at an AGM. However, it doesn’t matter what the January 27 meeting was called, AGM or otherwise, the questions about this important meeting remain. The lack of any genuine replies, a month since they were first asked, is dismaying, and telling.

Mr Sutton is skilled in social media, yet has offered no evidence whatsoever that any public notice, whether on social media or in local shops, let alone on his own website, Brockwellswimmers.com, was issued to inform the general public specifically about the intention to adopt a constitution and to elect officers under it, at a meeting on January 27 2016.

That is not inclusive, open and democratic; it is excluding, closed, undemocratic and smacks of the clandestine. In my book, this alone renders Brockwell Swimmers illegitimate as a public club. If it is a private business, as I argue it is, that is still an odd way to proceed.

 

2 I asked for minutes of the meeting held to adopt a constitution and elect officers of Brockwell Swimmers and whether there was a list of attendees.

 

TS reply: ‘Minutes are available to members.’

 

Where a legitimate public club is concerned, the minutes recording the adoption of a constitution and the election of officers are not a private matter, for members only. They are and should be on the record, for all to see, to show that everything is above board in a club seeking public support. The reluctance to make these minutes instantly available when asked for, as they were more than a month ago, inevitably raises the suspicion that they do not in fact exist. It would be the work of a moment for Mr Sutton to add them to his website, skilled as he is in social media.

Why are such minutes important? Especially for the adoption of a constitution, it is useful to know what discussions were held about different elements of it: the membership fee and the admittance of members under 18 are two matters of concern it would be good to know what attendees thought of, for instance.

And where elections of officers and committee are concerned, it is of legitimate interest to know how many people stood, what they said in support of their candidature and what questions they were asked.

As to attendees: how many were present at this secretive meeting to adopt a constitution and to elect officers? Was it a packed occasion, or just a handful of people? Again, this speaks to the legitimacy or otherwise of this organisation as a public club.

 

3 I asked for names of officers and committee members.

 

TS reply: ‘Details of officers are available to members.’

 

What genuine democratic organisation is afraid to name its elected officers and committee members when asked? That is neither ‘open and democratic’ nor ‘inclusive’. Again, the failure to name the officers and committee members—who under the Constitution have the power both to reject memberships and to deal with any appeals against such rejection—leads one to think that, apart from Mr Sutton, there are none.

Most concerning of all is the failure to name the treasurer and state their qualifications for undertaking the role. In any genuine, democratic organisation, the treasurer is the most important officer after the chair, the chief guarantor of its financial probity.

 

4 Speaking of financial probity, I asked about the disparity between the Brockwell Swimmers constitution, which mentions a fee, and online messages from Mr Sutton, which say membership is free.

 

TS reply: ‘Our present membership fee is £0.’

 

This reply is breathtaking in its arrogance: £0—nothing—is not a fee, it is the absence of a fee, as Mr Sutton will quickly discover if he tries to bank nothing. The Brockwell Swimmers Constitution, passed as recently as this January, specifically talks of a fee or annual subscription in several places; if it had meant membership to be free, it would have said so.

To offer membership for free, as has repeatedly happened online, is to go against that Constitution. You can’t act unconstitutionally in a public club; if it is your private business, you apparently can, according to its Chair—but then why bother with a constitution, if you are going to ride roughshod over it within three months, when it suits your purpose?

However, if Mr Sutton is to continue to offer unconstitutional free memberships, this further question then arises: what are the sources of revenue of Brockwell Swimmers? Is it Mr Sutton’s private wealth? People have a right to know: it is about transparency and sustainability.

And sorry to harp on about it, but it is such an important point: the lack of clarity about a suitably qualified treasurer is hugely damaging to the credibility of this organisation.

 

5 I asked about provisions to protect child members.

 

TS reply: ‘To our knowledge we have no members under the age of 18.’

 

There could hardly be a more flippant reply to a more serious question. That was: if this organisation offers to take memberships from people under 18, as it does, is anyone in it approved by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) to be in charge of the club’s youth members? Either they are, or they aren’t. Given the silence on such a crucial question, the presumption must be, alas for the protection of children, that there is no-one in Brockwell Swimmers with DBS clearance.

 

6 Appeals against rejection of an application to join Brockwell Swimmers are dealt with by the same body—the committee—that made the initial rejection. Despite the question being put twice, the inherent unfairness of this has not been addressed at all.

 

7 Also unanswered is the final, fundamental question: is Brockwell Swimmers a bona fide, open organisation, owned by its members, as is Brockwell Lido Users (BLU) (1500 members), or is it the private property of one person, Tim Sutton, as the Brockwell Swimmers website indicates?

 

Regarding its being bona fide, Brockwell Swimmers has now had two opportunities, a month apart, to respond and not done so. It has failed every reasonable test for a legitimate, public organisation: there is a wall of secrecy about such fundamentals as the adoption of the constitution, and the elections; there are no visible minutes; there are no visible officers or committee, particularly a treasurer; no respect for its own constitution when it comes to a fee; no clarity about sources of funding for the organisation; and no protection for children.

 

All the evidence is, first, that this is the vanity project of one man, eager to use the royal ‘we’ (as defined in his Terms and Conditions) to make people think it is more than one man’s scheme, and second, that Brockwell Swimmers is clearly his personal, private property, not a public club.

 

Why does all this matter? It’s a free country and anyone can set up a private business, however flawed. But it does matter deeply if your private business is masquerading as a legitimate public club and takes memberships on that flawed basis.

Personally, I prefer Brockwell Lido Users (BLU), owned by and answerable to its members, which does have a constitution publicly adopted and a committee and officers openly elected at meetings properly called, with minutes freely available. Once Brockwell Swimmers can match those oh so boring high standards of a legitimate and accountable public organisation, I will give it the time of day; until then, I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.