“Absinthe Without Love”
A Letter to the Editor from a concerned reader in Whitby who has clearly followed our example when it comes to the forensic examination of evidence documenting questionable administration of public funds.
Your readers may be interested in a small piece of amateur sleuthing which I have undertaken in respect of the organisers of a Whitby event which, despite atrocious behaviour, has been awarded £55,000 in grant funding from the Arts Council – i.e. £55,000 of taxpayers’ money.
By the simple expedient of a Freedom of Information request, I find myself able to make the following observations.
The Applicant’s name is listed as Absinthe Promotions Ltd (APL), which describes itself as a ‘Professional organisation’ also known as “Tomorrow’s Ghosts Festival” (details of Company Structure here, and below).
Under ‘Cultural Significance’ in the Application, APL asserted that for over 25 years Whitby has enjoyed the benefits of a biannual Gothic Weekend which APL’s Application claims produced a direct economic benefit of £3M per annum into the local economy.
One might reasonably suggest that, in reality, this “economic benefit” had been cultivated over the past 25 years by the Whitby Goth Weekend (WGW). Whilst one does not understand or seek to explain the intricacies of the subsequent fall out between the company Scarborough Borough Council appointed management of the Whitby Spa/Pavilion, Sheffield International venues (SIV) and the WGW management, it would be a fair assessment that APL, which stages only a minor fringe event, not the main attraction, has merely piggy-backed on the hard work and well-deserved reputation and goodwill established by the WGW.
Under ‘Diversity of Audiences and Workforce’, APL asserted that “as part of our commitment to fighting all forms of prejudice and bullying, we are a long time supporter of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation…”
For readers not familiar with the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, this organisation was set up in memory of Sophie Lancaster, who was horrifically attacked in 2007, along with her boyfriend, and subsequently died in direct consequence of simply electing to dress in a unique way. The charity’s aims are to “stamp out prejudice, hatred and intolerance everywhere, focussing on respect and understanding for subcultures in our communities”.
It is noted that a video was produced and posted on the Sophie Lancaster Foundation Facebook page by APL, extolling this ethos: https://www.facebook.com/110116053870/videos/3925729394184446
A high profile association indeed, and all very flattering to APL – one might all-too-easily be led to believe.
However, a simple search through APL’s Twitter account (https://twitter.com/absinthepromos) revealed something far more sinister, inappropriate and totally contrary to the principles APL promulgated in its Application; namely, fighting all forms of prejudice and bullying as a “long term supporter” of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation.
The Arts Council no doubt requires that recipients of its Grants should adhere to various anti-bullying/harassment policies. Contrariwise, many of APL’s social media comments refer to violent acts and personal abuse.
For example, APL has made statements on line endorsing physical violence, e.g.:
“This odious sh*t seriously needs a good kicking”
“How much do I want to pummel her face and I’m not remotely violent. She needs f*cking shooting”.
Below is just a sample of the online abuse that APL has published on public social media forums directly to various individuals and organisations (my apologies in advance for the content and language you are about to read, these are copied verbatim, albeit with asterisks replacing significant vowels):
“This odious sh*t needs a good kicking”
“How much do I want to pummel her face and I’m not remotely violent. She needs f*cking shooting”
“I would have refused to look after you and that’s 22 years with the NHS”
“Morons like you are more of a strain on society”
“C**nts” and “Go f**k yourself you massive w*nker”
“Yes, well done, only 40,000 dead you complete and utter c*nt”
“Wow Tez you’re a bit of a c*nt aren’t you?”
“You deplorable hag! Get in the f*cking wicker man!”
“She’s gonna f*cking need it. A sh*t MP who will fo absolutely nothing about homophobic, racist parish councillors because they’re her mates. Wake up!!!”
“How come the worst people all have a similar sh*t hair colour? Fabricant/Johnson/Trump!”
“You should feel like sh*t for this photo you bunch of c*nts!!!”
Absinthe Promotions Ltd. describes itself as a “professional organisation” (source: Applicant details in respect of Grant). I would suggest that no reasonable person would view the above comments, made publicly by this Company, to be the pronouncements of a “professional organisation”.
The Sole Director of Absinthe Promotions apparently views Whitby, the very place in which APL holds its ‘Tomorrow’s Ghosts Festival’, in the following terms. (The latest obscenity is taken from a screenshot of the Sole Director’s Facebook page on 27th January 2021, and has since been shared widely to other pages, groups and social media platforms):
“A big ‘f*ck you’ to those nazis in Whitby!”
In light of recent statements made via the Football Premier League (FPL) in protecting people from being abused and trolled on social media platforms working in their industry, and the #BeKind movement following the death of Caroline Flack, I feel it necessary to bring this matter into the public domain and ask readers to judge for themselves. Are readers content to allow public funds to be allocated to a Company which appears to view our town with such distain? Or, like me, will they be moved to express their disgust to the Arts Council and the Sophie Lancaster Foundation?
Even more disturbingly, under ‘Financial Viability and Sustainability’ APL stated that SIV (Sheffield International Venues), who at the time managed Whitby Pavilion and Scarborough Spa on behalf of SBC (Scarborough Borough Council), “guaranteed subsidised use of the multi functional venue and ticketing with advancement of ticket revenue”.
This struck a particularly false note because, on 7th July 2020, as we emerged from the first coronavirus lockdown, the Scarborough News reported that SIV were in financial difficulties and Mr Robert Goodwill MP was quoted as stating:
“It’s really worrying but not surprising as I don’t think we’re going to see theatres open for months, maybe not until next year.”
A month before the MP expressed his concerns publicly, articles had appeared in the Star and the Yorkshire Post predicting a financial crisis for SIV. On 15th June 2020, the Star reported that Sheffield City Council had engaged emergency powers to bail out SIV to the tune of £2.6M.
It is fair to point out that SIV’s fragility had been a matter of very public record. Back in August 2019, the NY Enquirer published an article (link here) reporting on a previous bail-out:
“According to a report on p.6 of yesterday’s Yorkshire Post, Sheffield International Venues (S.I.V.) – whose involvement with Scarborough Borough Council includes operation of the Scarborough Spa and the Whitby Pavilion complexes – has been bailed out of financial difficulties by Sheffield City Council to the tune of £1 million. Inevitably, this will give rise to speculation about the future of S.I.V’s arrangements with the Borough, going forward”
And all this long preceded APL citing SIV’s “guarantee” in its Arts Council £55,000 grant Application, dated 22nd October 2020.
On 13th October 2020, over a week before APL’s Application, the Scarborough News again reported on SIV’s plight, confirming that Scarborough Borough Council would be taking the running of the Whitby Pavilion back into its own hands, along with the Spa in Scarborough, the Spa Cliff Lift and Peasholm Cafe.
At that point, SIV’s “guarantee” to APL became worthless, but that vital information does not appear on APL’s Application to the Arts Council, submission date 22nd October 2020.
The Application form concludes with a signed statement of truth:
“I confirm that, as far as I know, the information in this application is true and correct.”
If this was not the case, the Arts Council would do well to consider the possibility that the Application may, at the very least, have been questionable.
None of the foregoing prevented the Arts Council from offering APL the £55,000 grant funding and, according to the Arts Council’s FOIA response, this was acknowledged on 20th January 2021. Readers may recall another NY Enquirer article (http://nyenquirer.uk/fine-mess/ – 18th November 2020) on the financial woes of SIV, which confirmed that the company had simply walked away from its contract with SBC mid-term and was thus no longer in a position to offer any semblance of a guarantee for the “subsidised use of the multi functional venue and ticketing with advancement of ticket revenue”.
I have already contacted my MP, requesting him to examine this matter further. Quite aside from questions arising over the integrity of the grant Application, those social media attacks are directed against our town and its long-established cultural heritage, and I am seriously concerned about the damage that this disgraceful behaviour could wreak upon the local economy; hence this letter to the Editor of North Yorks Enquirer.
Shortly after publication of Mr Morrison’s Letter to the Editor (see above), it became apparent that Mrs Lavender had deleted the cited Tweets. Screenshots appear below: