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#ThinkingAllowed: Calpe House, our home from home in time of need, must be proactive to retain trust

I think I can say, without exaggeration, that every single Gibraltarian I know has at some point fundraised for or donated to Calpe House. Our community’s support for the charity has been immense.

Calpe House has helped hundreds of local families at a time when they have needed it most. It has provided the warmth of a home, ensuring families don’t have to worry about the financial burden of renting in London whilst undergoing treatment. Since 1989 it really has been our ‘home away from home’.

Now, the Calpe House charitable trust is coming under intense scrutiny.

When Calpe House followed legal advice and adopted a new legal structure in the form of a company limited by guarantees, it should have communicated the change. It may be no more than an error of judgment but when dealing with transparency more disclosure is always better than less.

I’ve read on social media and spoken with some individuals who have questioned whether they wish to continue supporting this charity. It fills me with sadness to hear this.

Complex issues are arising and over the coming months we need to take the time to understand them properly.

Trying to make any sense of this in 140 characters is dangerous and could severely damage the reputation of the charity, morale of the trustees and public trust.

Perhaps we can draw a lesson from the recent Charlie Gard case in London. Great Ormond Street Hospital, which I believe does sterling work, may have been portrayed as heartless because of social media and 24-hour news.

A recent and excellent article in The Guardian (not just the headline in a tweet) by an anonymous staff member at Great Ormond Street made for fascinating reading. We learned about the hard work of the 200-strong team of nurses, doctors and consultants who cared for Baby Charlie.

If I may quote a line from it: “We cry on the tube when we’re not winning.” It’s heartbreaking in many ways.

The headlines behind this story are now gone but GOSH has been left to pick up the pieces. The criticism affected its staff and other parents who will now worry whether their children are receiving the best care and attention.

Calpe House has been answering questions and may very well need to continue doing so. Even if it means repeating themselves. Can they satisfy even their staunchest critics? I very much hope so.

With calls for a public investigation and a Parliamentary motion coming up, the issue is bound to remain very much on the news agenda.

There’s no point in being annoyed by comments from one side or another. Calpe House needs to see this as an opportunity to dispel any lingering concerns.

Albert Poggio is the new Calpe House Chairman. He’s taken over from Charlie Tilbury who sadly died recently. He had run the charity for nearly 30 years.

Mr Poggio told me the charity’s main aim of providing support and accommodation for sponsored patients remains “as strong as ever”.

In answer to my questions Mr Poggio insisted “Calpe House remains a charity” and is “a company limited by guarantees - effectively still a charity”.

I asked him whether the change would mean directors get paid as opposed to being voluntary appointments. He said: “None of the directors are being remunerated and they’re doing a sterling job, giving of their time for free in running this charity.” He added the only ones who remain on the payroll are a small number of staff appointed to run the facilities.

“For all intents and purposes our work remains unchanged,” he guaranteed.

The laws governing charities in the UK are strict and robust. There is no hiding.

The UK Charity Commission looked into the purchase of buildings at Norfolk Square and found nothing wrong. A spokesman told the Gibraltar Chronicle the trustees had acted with reasonable care and the purchase was in the interests of the charity. But the UK commission also later removed Calpe House Limited from its register of charities for ‘repeatedly’ failing to submit accounts on time.

According to Albert Poggio this matter has now been resolved and “the accounts are all submitted and up to date”.

A running commentary may not be possible from Calpe House trustees but now, more than ever, they need to ensure the public is kept informed every step of the way. The delays, the asbestos, the accounts. Explain, explain, explain – it’s the only way.

People are raising millions for the charity and must have full confidence that all monies are being spent wisely (even if money for the new Calpe House is being collected by a separate charity – The Friends of Calpe House, whose accounts are lodged with the charity commission in Gibraltar).

As the debate intensifies let’s not forget one vital key element - Calpe House has made a real difference to people’s lives.

When the original Calpe House was mooted in the 80s a joint community effort raised the money. When an expansion was needed and it was announced that £6M had to be raised the people of Gibraltar started to rally to the cause – no questions asked. From sponsored swims and cycles, to a charity single, skydives and much more.

We are building it step by step, brick by brick. The fundraising must continue with the same vigour if the new Calpe House is to become a reality.

Calpe House is not a hotel. It is our home from home in our hour of need. We have been proud of it for decades. It has helped us cry and smile. It has united us in conversations around the dinner table.

If the foundations on which it is built start to crack, it can bring the roof down. We cannot allow it all to just come crumbling down.

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