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Steel band in Harlesden fight for survival as trustees dissolve charity

PUBLISHED: 09:37 11 May 2017

St Michael and All Angels Steel Orchestra    Pic credit: Jonathan Goldberg

St Michael and All Angels Steel Orchestra Pic credit: Jonathan Goldberg

Jonathan Goldberg

Parents and staff of a highly popular, award-winning youth steel band in Harlesden have slammed trustees for dissolving the charity which supports it.

St Michael and All Angels Steel Orchestra    Pic credit: Jonathan Goldberg St Michael and All Angels Steel Orchestra Pic credit: Jonathan Goldberg

Members of the St Michael’s Youth Project (SMYP), home to St Michael & All Angels Steel Orchestra, heard the charity was dissolving in a Sunday sermon address to parishioners on April 30.

Rev Ron Herbert, vicar of St Michael & All Angel in Hillside, Stonebridge, stepped down from the trust in January but continues to act as its treasurer.

He said: “I’m afraid I jumped the gun. I announced it before it happened and before I should have announced it, so I caused a problem unnecessarily. It has now been dissolved. I’m not going to say more at this point.”

The orchestra, which won best band at the Notting Hill carnival last year, was evicted from the church last October, where it has been based for 20 years.

Freddy Totesant and Patrick McKay have been part of the St Michael Youth Project for 20 years    Pic credit: Jonathan Goldberg Freddy Totesant and Patrick McKay have been part of the St Michael Youth Project for 20 years Pic credit: Jonathan Goldberg

SMYP was formed in 1996, gaining charitable status in 2011.

Through a grant from the Jack Petchy Foundation, members have been awarded for a host of skills including volunteering and fundraising.

The children perform for free and have raised thousands of pounds in donations.

Parent Shu Khnum said “it’s the final nail in the coffin” for the band and that “an unfathomable conflict of interest of the project trustees”, has led to its demise. He added: “Whatever justification the trustees feel they have to relinquish themselves of the burden of this project is outweighed by the needs of the local children.

“Yet another asset to develop skills, pride and self esteem of local children is being stripped away from our community, but not this time because of lack of Government resources.”

Since October, young steel pan players have been playing in Mahogany Carnival Arts in High Street, Harlesden, taught by unpaid supporters of the band - Patrick McKay, co-ordinator, and Alfred ‘Freddy’ Totesaut, music arranger and teacher.

Mr McKay, said: “We weren’t informed. They can’t close it down without calling an AGM which they haven’t done and there needs a 2/3rd majority for the charity to be wound down and none of that has been done.”

“We have to find a way to continue and one of the options is to re-form our own charity.

“If we had to do that we wouldn’t get back to where we are now for another five years as we need to present two years of accounts to register with the charity commission.

“If we’re not registered with the charity commission we’re excluded from accessing funds. There is no sensible reason for dissolving this charity. I don’t know how we will survive.”

Candice Falconer, an original trustee member, was told to stand down in July.

“I still don’t know why,” she said. “The action being taken by the trustees to dissolve SMYP is unnecessary, as prior to the notification being given, the trustees were presented with a Memorandum of understanding, which stated that we are willing and able to do what is necessary to keep SMYP running and if the trustees wanted to step down, we would step in and get the organisation back on track.

“In my opinion, there must be other reasons why this action has been taken.”

Marlon Nelson, chair of trustees at SYMP, said: “Despite efforts to raise essential funds, the Board of Trustees has taken the difficult and hugely disappointing decision to end St Michael’s Youth Project (SMYP), due to a lack of resources. It is our hope that the steel orchestra will be able to continue and the trustees are currently in talks with a neighbouring church about providing it with a new home.

“The trustees will soon be meeting to discuss the distribution of SMYP’s remaining reserves to provide transitional support to the projects.”

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