Protesters descend on Dartington Hall in Devon which faces uncertain financial future

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More than 100 people have marched across the Dartington Estate in Totnes to demand 'transparency, accountability and community consultation' from the trust.

The 1,200-acre historical estate is run by the charity Dartington Hall Trust which is delivering an ongoing review to rescue it from a 'financial disaster'.

Residents, former staff, and students are keen to be involved in saving the trust, that was founded around 100 years ago, and want greater involvement.

It has prompted Dartington Estate’s interim acting CEO, Robert Fedder, to pen an open letter to dispel what he states is 'misinformation about the state of affairs' at Dartington Hall and assure that its appointed turnaround team is striving to secure the future of the estate.

He has confirmed discussions are underway with potential funders and business partners due to it being an 'ultimately commercial businesses', making it 'not in any official sense accountable in terms of governance, transparency or strategy'.

Among the speculation and rumours it has quashed is that there are plans for the closure of Schumacher College on the estate, 'fair rents' are being imposed and the Dartington International Summer School and Festival are not moving out of the area.

However, deep concerns remain among community members who have witnessed and been affected by many changes.

In June 2023, the trust confirmed jobs may be at risk as it announced a wide-reaching review and intended restructuring across its entire activities.

Trustees said the charity has experienced poor financial performance, driven by a combination of the pandemic, cost of living price increases, and an over-ambitious programme.

In September 2023, incoming students at Schumacher College, which is part of the Dartington Trust, were told their Masters courses, which were due to begin in four days, had suddenly been postponed.

The trust said the decision was made to postpone some of the courses as part of its financial review.

Some courses are now said to be back underway, but others have been postponed "indefinitely".

Then in October 2023, the trust announced next year's Music Summer School and Festival, which has been held at Dartington Hall since 1953, is 'on hold' and under review following the resignation of the entire team that organises it.

Artistic director Sara Mohr-Pietsch has stepped down from her role, stating the trust's ongoing financial review has made delivering its 2024 plans 'impossible'.

Her team has also followed in her footsteps and the future of the festival is now in doubt.

Those at the march explained: "We'd like to see the community involved in the running of Dartington.

"This land is really special, it's why Totnes is what it is. It's a forward-thinking really important sanctuary of a town and it matters that this isn't sold out to people who don't care."

Speaking on the condition of the estate, one person said: "A few years ago we had a very good project going in the Aller Park building.

"Today water is pouring through the roof because nobody is using it and nobody has bothered to repair it."

In a statement, the trust said it was committed to rescuing the estate from financial disaster and developing a strategy for recovery.

It points out that the trust is a registered charity but the activities of the hall and estate are commercial businesses, not community or social enterprises.