Our response to the Cornwall Reports article about us

Update: Please see the video interview by Cornwall Reports with Trudy Thompson.

Our response to this article, please have a read before reading our factual reply below – https://cornwallreports.co.uk/for-sale-the-cornish-village-shop-which-the-village-thought-it-had-already-bought/

I have to say that this journalist is one I normally respect for good reporting. I can prove the facts about our business are wrong and it might promote his website but it’s not so easy to fix the damage to this lovely village being linked to a toxic feud which is no more than a few toxic people who mostly don’t even live here!

This is not a community venture and it has not gone sour. It is a very successful limited company run by two residents who bought and turned around the village shop business so it benefits a lot of people of all ages and abilities in this community. 

We are funded by individuals loaning us the money instead of a commercial bank at a higher interest rate. There is nothing wrong with this, most small businesses start this way.  Our investors shop here often, talk to us a lot and know we are in here working hard every day. We are not inaccessible or secretive. We are running a small village shop – it couldn’t be more public!

I have called the Financial Conduct Authority and forwarded a copy of the article to them. They have confirmed that they would in no circumstances have either denied or confirmed to a journalist whether they were investigating or had complaints about a company. In the first instance, they would contact the company involved and request information and only if the case resulted in an action being taken it would be written on their website first.

They have not asked us for any information beyond the basics to take my call. I notified them we are more than willing to take part in any investigation and provide any information they requested. We are certain our business is not breaching any regulations.

Our PayPoint machine in the shop was registered by the operators in 2017 with the FCA when it was installed, this is nothing to do with our fundraising.

We did obtain professional advice before buying the shop and raising money and we regularly consult with legal and financial professionals. Nobody should invest in any business if they cannot afford to lose the money, even though I have given public personal guarantees that I will be responsible for the company’s debts if in the event it fails. I would not put the company at risk for this reason, but others have because they had nothing to lose. It is only our strength of character and fortitude that has kept this business out of their harm.

Solicitors have been advising us throughout the last two years to help us deal with the consequences of obsessive self-destructive people trying to hurt our business. We have not taken any action yet, we ignore all the social media posts about us, we have never engaged, it’s cyber cowardice, not bullying as far as we are concerned it’s boring and a futile waste of time.

The same people behind this article are proposing running a meeting about the community owning the shop. It is a recipe for disaster. They held a meeting in February and it didn’t result in anything useful happening for the attendees or the shop, apart from demonstrating exactly why community run ventures can cause disputes over finances and thoughtlessly compromise legal positions.

If officials from the FCA have been asked by our ‘funders’ to find out if the money we raised was to purchase shares, or was loans or donations the answer is very simple – it was a personal loan to our limited company, it’s on the document titled loan confirmation that everyone has received from us. There really is no confusion for genuine funders –  it’s very clear. We have never issued shares to anyone at any time, people have instead opted for straightforward repayment. Some people have donated their annual interest or spent it in the shop while others have kept their money in with us for another two years.

We have never said we were raising a loan from the community to buy Newhouse Farm.  We have only borrowed what we needed to buy and turnaround the shop and put a deposit on 43 Church Street, the building next door to try and expand. But that has been thwarted at every stage by circumstances beyond our control.

Fear and doubt being spread by vindictive people have led to their friends and family, who are our funders, asking for their money back and then getting frustrated, panicky and annoyed when we can’t pay them instantly.

We have never refused to pay anyone and our plan has always been to raise a mortgage to repay all funders and lease or sell the shop. No funders were kept in the dark about our plans.

We put the shop on the market to test what would happen and it appears to have been a signal to a group of troublemakers to do more to damage the shop business.

We have withdrawn the shop from sale now that we have seen how far this would inspire some to take their self-perpetuating drama. It was like lifting up a rock and watching all the creatures come scurrying out for everyone to see.

It is not in any of our genuine funder’s interests for there to be anonymous facebook accounts publicly campaigning and hounding our estate agent or damaging the reputation of the owners, the shop or the village with manipulated media promotion.

For those who want clarification on all the false assumptions and incorrect statements about our business trading history that have circulated on social media and in this recent article:

Bricks and Bread Sustainable Living Centres CIC a social enterprise was formed in 2009 six months after I had leased in my own name a huge warehouse that had laid unused for years. It was in the middle of the credit crunch and it nearly bankrupted me, I took a personal financial risk but I managed to overcome my difficulties and bring the building back to life to create a centre for sharing sustainable business and building experience.

I only formed a CIC because I was asked to set one up to deliver work for organisations as they could only work with ‘official’ social enterprises. We delivered training courses for government schemes and departments, FTSE100 companies, promoted building products and provided office space to sustainable ventures and waste reuse projects. Companies donated office furniture and I gave it to small businesses to help them get started. I helped thousands of people with shared or free resources and advice. I replicated the model and gave it to people to adapt to their own venture.

I gave all my time for free with absolutely no financial rewards for doing so. Rushmoor Borough Council gave me business rate relief for five years, in recognition of the valuable work I did for the community and the landlord zeroed my rent and I was asked to become a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and won many awards for my social enterprise and sustainable business activities.

Josh was one of the young entrepreneurs I mentored in 2012 and after supporting him for a year we started working alongside each other and he started mentoring young people with his experience, as I did for free.

The government launched a start-up loans programme and approached us to become paid mentors under contract to the scheme providing free mentoring and sharing our experience to help their loan recipients. We delivered this work for two years and were given an award by the scheme in 2013 for the quality of our mentoring helping so many businesses.

A small charity called Bricks and Bread Charitable Foundation was formed for under a year, the only donation was a nominal one from ourselves just to open a bank account. We were giving away our free mentoring sessions to young people. It didn’t trade, raise grants or receive any donations. We had an early stage application with the FCA in case we referred anyone to the start-up loan scheme but we did not require it and asked for it to be cancelled.

Neither Josh or I or any other party involved financially benefited from this charity in any way. Josh and I did all the work for free, with help from friends, we helped hundreds of young people grow in confidence and share our entrepreneurial experience. We didn’t want to run a charity we just wanted to give away our expertise. So we just closed it and carried on giving away our time.

We only moved to Cornwall because one of our start-up loan recipients lived in the village and they needed our help, they got in contact the week before the five-year lease was due to end on the warehouse in Aldershot. Josh only moved here to help me for a month but he has stayed over four years and we have managed to end up living together as just best friends and business partners, which is no mean feat for two people with separate lives and 20 years age gap to live our work lives non stop.

Bricks and Bread Sustainable Living Centres CIC continued as a website that people could book free mentoring sessions with Josh and I. We had bookings every day for the four 30 minute sessions that we made available 5 days a week until the end of 2015.

I was the only creditor of the CIC, I never took a wage in all the years it traded and I personally lent the company money. The company did not trade or receive any grants for over a year before I applied for it to be removed from the register (it is called being struck off, does not mean anything more dramatic than it is no longer a registered company on their system) and filed dormant accounts for the final corporation tax return.

Josh and I have earned our living as sole traders in all the time we have lived in Cornwall, delivering our paid coaching, writing and public speaking work for large organisations from FTSE 100 companies to universities.

We were asked by national grant funders to apply for grants as individuals, not as a social enterprise or a charity, to help them deliver local schemes to support social entrepreneurs in Cornwall and help set up ready-made ventures for enterprising local people to take on with our support.

We have more than delivered for those grant funders, we have been audited and our results measured, they only funded us for a few months but we have given years of paid employment in the shop and free premises to people who first came to us for free mentoring under these grant-funded projects.

It is a sign of the level of obsession that some have developed against us that they are also resorting to publicly shaming and damaging the reputations of small businesses that are run by people we have supported.

Hunter Grange Investments Ltd was just a company registered online (originally called Bricks and Bread Investments ltd) in 2011 by a business advisor and left dormant. We did not need to trade under it and I forgot it had been formed, moved house and didn’t change the company address. Companies house changed the requirements for dormant companies needing to file annually and as soon as the reminder reached my new address I filed zero value accounts, the company was not being ‘struck off’ for doing anything more than not ticking a box on time. You can have a company restored even after it has been struck off.

It made sense to utilise this already formed but dormant company when we decided a limited company was the simplest and fastest way to save the village shop in 2016. It was no different to having registered a brand new company for the purpose, it just saved the registration fee and more paperwork.

We notified companies house and HMRC that the company was active in January 2016 and gave it a new name – Hunter Grange Investments Ltd. As the company had been dormant it had a SIC code of non-trading. It was only when the annual confirmation statement was filed in December 2016 that its SIC code was updated online to trading.

We very publicly raised money from January 2016 bought the village shop on 23rd September 2016 and then started trading, so our first-year accounts have only 3 months retailing. There is no mystery surrounding our trading history or accounts or purchase of assets.

‘Short’ accounts – the inference is that we have left out information when our accountant filed our accounts, we have not, it is standard practice for a small business to have abbreviated or filleted accounts at Companies House. Our full accounts are not a secret, they have been seen by everyone who ought to see them.

The December 2017 accounts do not show a bank loan of £172k, that is just a generic term used by accountants. Our funding has only come from individuals, we do not have any commercial funding or overdraft facilities.

For the record, we both have clean excellent personal credit scores, with over 8 years without any defaults or late payments. Our business has a low-risk credit score with no commercial borrowing and assets higher than our liabilities.

I have emailed Michael Cotter, the solicitor mentioned in the article, however, he refused to disclose the names of his clients and will be in touch if he finds legal action is deemed necessary! My email to him is copied below.

The shop is not at risk, the funders money is not at risk. But it will be if we let people promote our supportive village as ‘toxic’ and spread more ridiculous rumours about us and our business.

We had already booked the village hall for a meeting on the 26th May with our funders long before this article was planned. We will be updating them on our plans which are a damn sight more positive and useful for this community than an entirely inappropriate witch hunt.

Onwards and upwards! 

Trudy (and Josh)

Email to solicitor ‘representing our funders’

From: Trudy Thompson 

Sent: 17 May 2018 15:55

To: Michael Cotter

Cc: Josh Taylor

Subject: Article mentioning your involvement

Dear Michael

I have read with great concern an article which mentions your interest in my business – https://cornwallreports.co.uk/for-sale-the-cornish-village-shop-which-the-village-thought-it-had-already-bought/

We are not aware of any funders who have instructed you, please could you disclose who you are representing?

We have absolutely no objection to allowing any of our funders to obtain a charge on the shop property. Nobody has raised this as a matter they wish to discuss with us. All we want to do is repay everyone and stop having individual funders so we have less disruption from the rumours this causes in the village.

We could do this by raising a mortgage and continuing to run the shop, or selling the shop and making a profit. In either situation, the priority for us and the majority of this community is that the shop remains as it is today, thriving and open!    

We are being obsessively hounded by a core group of people who are not our funders. For two years they have persisted in spreading misinformation to turn people against us, making claims that our business is a Ponzi scheme, it is not. We own and run a very successful village shop that was at risk of closing two years ago.

There is nothing wrong with our business or us, we are very open in our business operations, we have achieved something remarkable for this community that hugely benefits it.

We do not have any commercial lending. The company has a low risk credit score, we are making a profit, and our assets are worth more than our liabilities.

We have offered our funders the opportunity to put their money in a separate community organisation they would run to own the shop, the majority do not want to do that. They are happy to keep funding us if we carry on running the shop but as long as the shop remains a shop they had no objection to us selling the shop. We are very keen on the community owning the shop but it is a viable business that is probably more likely to survive if it is run by an owner/manager, than the community and a committee.

The only thing hampering us is the negative propaganda and fake social media profiles claiming we are ripping off the community. Try raising a mortgage, running a shop or even putting the shop on the market when you have people determined to portray you as crooks, liars and fakes. I have had to take the shop off the market because of how much harassment my estate agent has been getting from fake buyers.

We have nothing to hide. We are holding a meeting for funders on the 26th of May to clear up any rumours and announce our plans which have progressed despite the campaign against us.

Please feel free to contact me if you want to discuss anything, I am more than open to hearing concerns from our funders and offering them more security.

Trudy Thompson

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