One of the people who’s been working with me to push for the repair and restoration of our Blake’s cottage is beginning to despair of ever getting through to Tim Heath. ‘I simply don’t understand him,’ he said. ‘He says one thing and does another.’ That in essence is the key to understanding the man. We must judge him not by what he says, either to the press or on the Blake Cottage Trust website, but by what he does, or even more destructively, doesn’t do.
His words are mostly airy fairy dreams – “lets skip over the tedious business of raising funds to repair the cottage and consider our glorious future and the scores of geniuses that will come streaming out of the door in a thousand years time.” It takes time and study to disentangle all the things he says because they are so much at variance with one another. When the cottage was first bought he trumpeted loudly in the local and national press that it had been bought for the nation. ‘Once the cottage is purchased, the society intends that it will be put into a charitable trust to be held in perpetuity for the benefit of the nation.’ If only. Now he is more openly admitting that the important thing to him is to be able to pull down half the cottage and build his half a million pound second residence on the site. It seems to me, that those are two very different and conflicting aims and in the meantime the cottage is in desperate need of repair which it isn’t getting.
So what on earth can those of us who very much want it to belong to the nation and to be repaired and kept in good order, do in this current situation? I fear it may be very little. He is already going his own way, refusing to allow locals into the cottage but inviting personal friends there for an escorted visit. The change has already begun.
I discovered, quite by accident, that one of the ex-trustees of the Blake Society, Naomi Billingsley, was given a personal invitation from Tim Heath to visit the cottage last November. Which she did on November the 25th 2016 and afterwards wrote on social media about what a beautiful place the cottage was and how much she’d enjoyed her visit. What is more, she published pictures of the interior. The news made me sit up with surprise. She’d visited??!!! That’s unheard of. She’d been allowed to publish pictures??!!! That’s more than any of the Felpham supporters of the cottage, who raised funds to buy it, have ever been allowed to do – with the single exception of Rachel Searle.
Then I read a newspaper article about the British Pilgrimage Trust who had walked from London to the cottage and had had their photographs taken outside the place, so I chased up all the newspaper articles about that. And, as one of the papers had reported that the group spent Halloween there, I’ve been trying to contact them ever since, without luck so far, to find out whether that was true.
I will go on playing detective and doing whatever I can and reporting back to you, but there is actually very little that one old woman can do. Taht would require the power of a public body like the West Sussex County Council or the ADC or even better concerted action being taken by the local Felpham Village Preservation Society who are a large, amiable local group whose motto and reason for being is contained in three powerful words. PRESERVE, PROTECT, PROMOTE. Oh if only they would! It would make such a difference.