|You will be aware that we held a Special General Meeting (SGM) for TUST members on Tuesday evening this week at the Livermead Cliff Hotel, Torquay. This note is to provide an overview of the meeting. Apologies for its’ length, but it is intended to give an insight into how the evening transpired for those of you who were unable to attend as well as a record for those of you who were able to come along. As you will hopefully appreciate, your TUST board have come away from the meeting with a large number of thoughts, ideas and potential courses of action to take which will be considered over the coming days and weeks.
The evening was attended by approximately 50 members with a significant number of apologies from others, particularly exiled gulls who naturally find it difficult to attend such events. A combination of very poor weather conditions on the night and traffic problems locally seemed to put pay to a greater attendance with many confirmed attendees unable to get to the meeting. The start of the meeting itself was delayed for 15 minutes (to 7.15) to allow some of those caught in the traffic to get to the venue.
The evening was split into 2 distinctive parts: Part 1 involved a series of presentations where information was passed on to the attendees. Part 2 after a comfort break was an open forum for members to ask questions, pass on their views and participate in debate on various subjects.
Our Treasurer Matt Gorman opened the evening and set out the path of travel for the night. First up to speak was recently elected Chairman Michel Thomas. Michel Thomas (Chairman)
Michel gave a short welcome and a thank you to our previous chairman Michael Goulbourne for all his hard work in the past. He then went on to thank members for their support over the last couple of years in particular and was also keen to recognise all TUFC supporters for their work, specifically in relation to the organisers of the on-line petition to the Council regarding the Freehold of Plainmoor and the tireless work of all three fans forums and their members. He then set about outlining the work of the TUST Board of late with specific comments on the following subject matters:
TUST have received support from Kevin Foster MP for Torbay, Deborah Brewer, Liberal Democrats, and Sam Moss, Green Party. All three have expressed concern regarding any possible sale of the freehold of Plainmoor. TUST are meeting with Kevin Foster and a team of councillors in the next two weeks to discuss matters further. It was stated just how reassuring it was to know that they share the concerns of Torquay United Supporters.
Structured Dialogue with TUFC
The TUST Board are continuing to have regular monthly meetings with Geoff Harrop and Tim Herbert of TUFC with a view to building relations locally and with the current owners. Unfortunately Clarke Osborne as yet, has been unable to attend these meetings but Geoff Harrop reports to Clarke Osborne after the meetings via SKYPE to update him. The Board are to continue to press the club for face to face contact with Mr Osborne. A formal response to Mr Osborne’s letter of 19th January will be made following the SGM Meeting.
Contact with ex-players
TUST have had contact from several ex-players offering their support and/or help moving forward including Dave Caldwell, Steve Tully and Kevin Hill.
There has been a concern from TUST about the balance of reporting on TUFC by the Herald Express. These concerns have been raised with Jim Parker and Guy Henderson. Michel went on to re-iterate his recent interview with ITV was cut short and edited accordingly. A statement was prepared to read, but ITV chose a different approach which resulted in the “short clip” eventually broadcast. Michel was due to meet with the BBC on Wednesday to provide comments and raise the profile of TUST amongst the wider population. It was stated that key contacts have now been established with the BBC and ITV. In addition, further contacts have been made with both the Telegraph and Guardian Newspapers to be called on where necessary moving forward.
Support for TUST
Jamie Mathie of Supports Direct and Andy Walsh of the Football Supporters Federation have been made fully aware of the situation at TUFC and are on standby and ready to support and advise accordingly including guidance on stadium development, budgets, information relating to supporter influence in football clubs. Michel’s key message for TUST members, the wider Torquay United Supporter base and the local population was that of UNITY at this time. There is a clear need for the community at large to work together to help sustain the long term future of Torquay United. In terms of our membership, he stated that what we need is to continue to increase our membership to raise our profile and importantly there was a need for more active feet on the ground to help us with any future initiatives.
Robin Causley (Vice-Chairman)
Robin reported on a successful bid he had submitted on behalf of TUST to the Fans Fund Grants Scheme. The Fund supports projects which improve the relationship between fans and their clubs and improve the way football supporters engage with each other and improve fans’ experience of the game. In conjunction with the club and the Torquay United Community Supporters Trust the project will engage new supporters and develop pathways to a range of match day and non-match day provision.
- A Fans Hub will be the means to engage with the local community prioritising the most deprived wards in Torbay and wider coastal and rural population outside of Torbay.
- Within those communities, those currently under represented at matches such as girls, BAME (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) and disabled people of all ages, etc. will be targeted.
- A Pop-up Fans Zone/Hub will be used on match days and within community settings throughout the year.
- Volunteers will be trained to manage and promote the project, with 10 outreach sessions planned in various community settings.
- A “free” match-day package will be provided by the Club for people selected from the outreach sessions.
£20,000 has been awarded under the grant and a co-ordinator will be employed on a sessional basis to manage and develop the project. Funding will also be used to build TUST’s infrastructure, website, marketing and membership This was seen as a great example of how TUST can try and add value to the club as a whole.
Matt Gorman (Treasurer)
Matt provided a brief update to attendees on the TUST financials as they stand at present. Some of the key numbers quoted were as follows:
- Total TUST balances held were £31,006 as at 30th January 2018
- Membership Number 507 was issued on 30th January (although 2 further members joined 31st January). However, in reality the number of “live” members was quoted at just over 400
- 47 new members (now 49) had joined TUST in the last 3 weeks compared to 10 in the whole of 2017 demonstrating how membership numbers tend to change during perceived periods of crisis
- Matt also provided a brief overview of the accounts to the end of June 2017 including income received and expenses.
Chris Fleet & John Gibbes
As TUST members and well-known TUFC supporters; Chris and John answered some questions posed to them around their current thoughts on the position of our club and what role they see TUST taking with regard to the club moving forward. Both spoke passionately about their views and provided constructive and well-balanced thoughts for the attendees to consider and digest. Jon also provided a short background and history of his time as a Torquay United supporter. Jon (TUFC Historian) was keen to emphasise as an accountant, he is keeping a close eye on the accounts of TUFC. He confirmed that Clarke Osborne has raised his shareholding from 74.7% to 92.3%. Chris provided us with a brief history into his background and how he became a supporter of Torquay United and his involvement with the club and players of late. He shared the concerns of us all in respect of the lack of information coming from the owner with regard to his intentions for our club. Chris was keen to emphasise we have to deal with FACTS not speculation. His thoughts were that we need to focus on two key questions: What do we know? What can we do? Chris was keen to emphasise the importance of TUST having a clear focus on moving forward. He felt it was important our focus in galvanising support should be on the local area as a whole and not just the football club supporters who turn up to games
Exeter City Supporters Trust
TUST were delighted to welcome representatives from our friends at the Exeter City Supporters Trust. We were joined by Nick Hawker (Chairman), Pete Martin, Elaine Davis and Doug Gillard who provided an insight into Community Ownership. Pete Martin explained the history of Exeter City Supporters Trust which began in 2000 with 200 members. After the tenure of Mr Lewis and Mr Russell and the subsequent fraud investigation, it appeared the only organisation interested in Exeter City was the supporters. In the space of six months the membership for Exeter’s Trust increased from 200 members to 1500 members. With the luck of the draw (Manchester United) the supporters paid off Exeter’s debts and have prospered as a Community Owned Club ever since. They saw no reason why TUST could not explore a similar path. Elaine Davis was keen to emphasise the power of volunteers in a community owned club. Last year Exeter City received £250,000 worth of employed hours from their volunteers. She was also keen to stress that when supporters own their club there is a definite increase in support financially and practically and the power of volunteers should not be underestimated.
Two messages emerged from their presentation:
- Communication to supporters is key
- Working with the community is key
Sam Balsdon (Disabled Roof Project)
Sam Balsdon spoke regarding his project to provide a roof for TUFC supporters below Bristow’s Bench. He confirmed that although the first stage for home supporters had been completed, £1800 was still outstanding to the contractor. After talks with TUFC, Chris Rich has apologised and although the Club do intend to contribute to this debt, there is no money in the budget at present. TUST have committed to helping Sam in raising this shortfall and were delighted to confirm that after a raffle at our meeting £382 was raised on the night to help with this hugely important cause. The winners of the raffle were Rob Burkitt who won a signed promotion winning TUFC shirt and Chris Fleet who won a signed Paul Gascoigne shirt. Chris Fleet has kindly agreed to auction this shirt on EBay and will put all proceeds towards Sam’s fund. Thank you to our members for their contributions. We would also like to thank the representatives from the Exeter City Supporters Trust for their personal contributions and their further pledge of £100 from the Trust itself. Sam is very keen to continue with his efforts to supply superb disabled facilities to our most loyal supporters of TUFC. His vision includes portable disabled toilets and more simple things like blankets. The TUST will revisit the option of a bucket collection and other ideas with TUFC on match days to support Sam with this worthy cause.
The second part of the evening was opened up to attendees to ask questions, provide comments and debate the current position at the club. A summary of some of the issues discussed were as follows:
- What is the difference between an Official Supporters Club and a Trust?
- How do the two work side by side at Exeter City?
Chris Fleet provided an insight into the establishment of the TUOSC and the rationale behind it. Representatives of the Exeter City Supporters Trust outlined how their 2 organisations worked. It was a widely consensual view that moving forward there needs to be closer links between the TUOSC and TUST. A change of chairman at TUOSC perhaps provides an ideal opportunity to forge these closer links although the importance was stressed that TUST is and will be independent from the club.
- Can TUST or should TUST purchase the Freehold of Plainmoor?
Although no official voting took place on the evening, there was an overall majority of hands agreeing to this suggestion. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of this course of action were discussed. It was stressed that at present the freehold is not for sale. However, the TUST board were requested to consider the implications of any such availability and the pro’s and con’s accordingly and report back to members
- Can TUST purchase the 7% of shares left in TUFC.
A discussion was held around whether or not TUST should look to purchase a stake in the club. The suggestion was made that we should explore the option of buying the remaining shares not owned by Mr Osborne. Once again, views for and against this were made by the attendees. The TUST board were requested to consider this idea.
- Should TUST lobby for a place on the TUFC board?
A question was put forward in response to a comment made in Mr Osborne’s recent letter regarding supporter engagement as to whether TUST should lobby for a place on the TUFC board. The TUST board are to consider this idea although the show of hands in the room provided a generally mixed response to this question.
- Do TUST have sufficient funds to launch a community share issue if required?
The simple answer to this question is YES. It has always been a criticism that TUST do not have enough money to run the club or buy the club. This is 100% correct as it stands. However, that was never argued. The key has always been for TUST to have a capital base to be able to launch such an issue or to deploy funds in a certain manner if required to appeal to the wider community for capital should the need arise.
- The Trust need to be more visible and undertake more practical activities to generate engagement
This was not disputed by any members of the TUST board or the attendees. The fact remains that as things stand, the board is made up of a very small number of individuals who work full-time or run a business (in Matt’s case) with huge demands on their time. There is only a certain number of hours in the day and of late the resilience of the small team has been tested to the full. Matt Gorman made a passionate call for more practical “hands-on” help either by members putting themselves forward to work as part of the board / team or to becoming part of a working party focusing on certain areas. Members were requested to complete the feedback and Q&A form provided to outline what help they could practically provide. He re-stated that TUST is not about the small numbers of board members. TUST is everyone in the room and the wider membership ideas and suggestions are great, but help is needed to implement these. Michel Thomas indicated his desire to grow the board to the maximum of 10 members with a variety of skills and specialisms. Although not stated on the night, we are about to co-opt another board member in the coming days and will be looking to co-opt a further member shortly to work on our Social Media / Communications strategy and lead a working party in this important area.
- What is our Purpose moving forward?
The general consensus of opinion from the audience was that TUST needed to remain the critical friend of the club and to be the watching eye over proceedings as they develop. TUST needed to have different plans and strategies to deal with situations as they evolve. As things stand, the club is not for sale and neither is the freehold. However, in the absence of other “white knights” TUST is seen as the last resort / go-to position to maintain the existence of the club.
Key Aims / Points Raised
- Continue to increase member numbers to widen the membership.
- Improve and Increase social media exposure.
- Meet regularly with our MP and local councillors to continue to lobby for the protection of the freehold of Plainmoor and to investigate in the long term its’ potential purchase by supporters.
- Improve the TUST website and introduce variation in the amount of subscription rates, but we need to demonstrate the value of subscriptions to members. What do members get for what they pay? The need to consider more social / general events will be looked at.
- Develop more co-ordinated links with the local community including the business community. Get the message across as to how TUFC impacts on their businesses and lives.
- Continue building relations with TUFC using structured dialogue.
- Increase the pressure on the club regarding matters such as the implementation of the local board and the five year plan.
The meeting concluded at 9.45pm Summary
The meeting has enabled the TUST board to get a sense on how members feel and how they wish TUST to move forward from this point. The board are hugely grateful for those who took the time to attend the meeting and to pass on their comments. We have also had many comments and offers of help from exiled supporters and others who were unable to attend the meeting. The feedback forms completed on the night were also very valuable to us and will be reviewed in detail over the coming days. Your TUST board has a face to face meeting with the club on Saturday and will then gather for a further meeting to go through in detail the output from Tuesday evening. There is a lot of thoughts, ideas and concepts to consider at present. The key requirements is to establish the infrastructure within TUST to deal with a plan of action moving forward. I cannot stress highly enough how hard the small team of board members have worked over the last few weeks. The time devoted cannot continue at current levels with the small team we have and therefore our priority is to bring fresh-blood onto the team to share the workload and we hope to announce the first addition shortly.
Please watch this space as we provide more detailed updates over the coming days and weeks. Thank you all for your continued support and once again for all those who attended on Tuesday evening.
Michel Thomas pp. TUST Board