Kentwell Hall is a beautiful historic Tudor home in Long Melford, near Sudbury, Suffolk. It’s about 90 minutes away from Stepney and has a moat, wonderful gardens and a rare breed farm.
It also has accommodation for honeymooners and for anyone simply wanting a break from the Big Smoke. Its Hall Barn Lodge and Annexe can sleep up to 14 and a weekend break with a group that size in early May costs £1,150, according to a quote I was given.
The accommodation looks lovely. Here’s the master bedroom, another guest room and the lounge area.
And, thanks to photos posted on Twitter by the Stepney branch of the Salvation Army, these were the guests there this weekend:
That’s the group having dinner on Friday night. On Saturday, they went horse-riding:
They’d also wanted to go quad biking but I’m not sure they did in the end.
Regular readers will have spotted the grinning king of selfies, Tower Hamlets First Cllr Mahbub Alam, in the foreground of the group photo above.
Here is he is holding his stick at the front of this one, too:
— Cllr. Mahbub Alam (@MahbubAlam01) April 17, 2015
I’m told there is one journalist in that group and some who are activists in the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE).
The chap to Mahbub’s right wearing the dark jacket is Ahad Miah. He stood and lost as a Tower Hamlets FIrst candidate for Wapping in last May’s council elections. He’s very close to Mahbub and this was their second trip away together in less than a month. They were also on deputy mayor Oli Rahman’s delegation to Athens three weeks ago.
Oli and Mahbub have strongly denied that that trip was publicly funded.
The weekend away in Suffolk, however, has been funded entirely by the taxpayer…through a fund set up by the man Mahbub and his Tower Hamlets First colleagues love to hate: Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
They were given a grant of £2,000 for their weekend break from the £5million Near Neighbours Fund which was set up by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2011. The intention was to promote inter-faith dialogue in key areas throughout the UK. East London was of course one such area.
The Near Neighbours grants are administered by the Church Urban Fund, which is a charity arm of the Church of England. Community groups are requested to submit applications and explain the parameters of their proposed projects and explain what how the money will be well used.
There are many in Tower Hamlets who are well-practised of course in sniffing out grants and saying the right things to secure them. Unfortunately, there are also too many who fail to do their due diligence when checking these applications out.
For some time now, the Salvation Army in Stepney – run by Nick Coke – has been working with a group of Bengali Muslim men called Stepney Fathers, which is run by Ishaque Uddin, and the Stifford Centre, a Bengali dominated community centre in Stepney. Nick and Ishaque are both active members of Citizens UK, an umbrella group of community organisations including the IFE.
Stepney Fathers, the Stifford Centre bosses and the Sally Army guys have had lots of meetings together, they play badminton and they socialise generally. These meetings work for them and are no doubt useful to the narrow numbers involved.
So it was perhaps a natural step for a group of friends to suggest a weekend away together; even better if someone else could pay for it.
And so Nick Coke and Ishaque Uddin, supported by Cllr Mahbub Alam, submitted an application form for a grant to the Near Neighbours Fund in February.
They told the Church Urban Fund this would be for a range of activities at an outward bound centre in Devon, where the men (for they are all men) would eat together and take part in “team building” activities. They’d take some media guys along as well and film it so their fun and discussions about faith could be an inspiration to others.
They asked for £2,415, broken down as follows:
Self-catering cottage in Devon – £665
Minibus – £350
Diesel – £200
Food – £200
Activities (quad biking/horse riding) – £700
Media equipment (cameras and sound etc) – £300.
In assessing whether to give the grant, the Church Urban Fund’s local co-ordinator is meant to seek the views of the relevant parish priest – in this case, that was the Rev Trevor Critchlow, the rector of St Dunstan’s in Stepney.
He objected. He advised the Church Urban Fund that should these men want a weekend away, they should jolly well pay for it themselves. In his view it was a jolly. He said there were far better causes the money could be spent on.
But he heard nothing back, other than to learn that the grant had been awarded, albeit at a reduced rate of £2,000. It seems there was an objection to the £300 for buying camera equipment.
Well, Devon and quad bikes didn’t happen in the end. It seems (judging by the nice 4×4 in Mahbub’s picture) that they instead decided to spend their minibus and diesel cash on upgraded accommodation closer by.
There were no Jewish people invited on this weekend away together “promoting integration” and interfaith dialogue. Which is a shame because I wonder whether they’d have discussed this:
This was posted by Ahad Miah on his Facebook page during the Gaza crisis last summer. You can see that a friend of his has written “miss him” underneath.
So a man who “salutes” Hitler for exterminating Jews has been the recipient of DCLG money that was earmarked for promoting interfaith dialogue and integration. I wonder how many others share his views. What checks did the Church Urban Fund carry out on the people going on this trip?
This, posted by Ishaque Uddin on his Facebook page, is not quite in the same league, but the imagery is similar.
I suspect that neither Pickles, nor the trustees of the Church Urban Fund will be very impressed.
The Rev Critchlow made his views clear in a Tweet last night:
Outrageous use of public funds …… pic.twitter.com/qNBxFdsagT
— Trevor Critchlow (@trevor1340) April 18, 2015
Note his comments on the Facebook page where the weekenders have posted their pictures:
It’s an absolute disgrace that this is being paid for by the tax payer through Near Neighbours. If you want weekend away fine, but pay for it yourself.
And he said this to me when I asked him about it this evening:
We don’t need to throw money around to make connections with people. Just having a cup of tea with someone does that. That’s what decent human beings do naturally anyway.