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Issue 317 – New deal for Cheese & Grain but issues still to be resolved

FROME Town Council is set to run the Cheese and Grain in the future, although the highly valued community venue will now remain in the hands of the trustees until April 2012.

Supporters of the Cheese and Grain came out in force to the extraordinary meeting of the town council on Wednesday 22nd December as the council met to discuss the future of the venue. The meeting was called following a period of acrimony between trustees of the Cheese and Grain and Frome town councillors, which followed the announcement that the town council was considering withdrawing the grant of £35,000 per annum to the venue. The venue’s trustees responded to this news with alarm, saying that such a move would force them to pass control of the venue to the town council to escape closure.
Now, the town council has decided that the £35,000 provided by the current Service Level Agreement (SLA) between the town council and the Cheese and Grain will end on the 31st March 2011. From April 2011 Frome Town Council will offer a monthly grant of £2,917 to the Cheese and Grain for up to 12 months on the condition that the Cheese and Grain agrees to work co-operatively with Frome Town Council to maintain services and develop a business plan for the future.
Frome Town Council also resolved to take over the management of the Cheese and Grain on 1st April 2012 and “annul the current lease between the two parties, if requested by the Cheese and Grain”.
John Birkett-Smith, one of the nine trustees of the Cheese and Grain said, “We’re pleased that we have at least got a length of time to work with the town council to come up with the best way forward for the Cheese and Grain and for the people of Frome. It’s a respite.
“But it wasn’t a very edifying meeting. We didn’t get any answers – they’d decided what they wanted to do. But I think there’s a realisation of the depth of anxiety over the issue and that people are concerned.”
Many Frome residents turned out to the meeting on the 22nd December, using the public forum to voice their support for the Cheese and Grain and voice why they thought the current SLA funding should continue. The Cheese and Grain also gave a presentation on the aims, objectives, and user and financial statistics of the venue. The speakers emphasised the success of the venue and conveyed a passion for the Cheese and Grain as a valued community facility.
Among questions raised were why the council want to cease the SLA, when no concern over the current arrangement had previously been voiced, particularly given a new 30 year lease from the council was signed in May 2010.
Although the town council discussed the matter after the forum ended, many attendees left with their questions unanswered. Elaine Pugsley, who attended the meeting, said, “Questions from the huge public forum remained unanswered. Councillors made no serious attempt to engage and respond with the people who had elected them.
“This ‘extraordinary’ Frome Town Council meeting ended with many people in the public forum wondering why they had attended and shocked that our elected members could dismiss and ignore the views of so many and diverse people of Frome who had made ‘extraordinary’ efforts to attend the meeting.”
Currently the town council has a 99 year lease on the building from Mendip District Council and sub-leases it to Frome Cheese and Grain Ltd, a non-profit making charity set up by the town council in 2003. Since then, the town council has contributed £35,000 a year to running costs.
Although the tense meeting left plenty of unanswered questions, both the town council and the Cheese and Grain expressed a willingness to work together to get the best for the venue and for Frome.

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