The relationship between The Bletchley Park Trust (BPT) and The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) both based at Bletchley Park has been in the press recently. A piece published by the BBC in January this year Bletchley Park’s bitter dispute over its future showed a Bletchley Park volunteer crying after being sacked by the current CEO of Bletchley Park Iain Standen. There was a public outcry after the BBC report was shown on the news, with people complaining about the way that volunteers are being treated and asking what is going on.
Lots of people have asked me to comment since the report. I first got involved with Bletchley Park in 2003 and started a campaign to save it in 2008 when I found out that they were having financial difficulties. I’m currently writing a book Saving Bletchley Park about the campaign, the people involved, what we did, what worked and what didn’t.
During the time that I was campaigning to save Bletchley Park and now during writing of my book I have spoken to quite a few people that have been involved with Bletchley over the years. It has all been very interesting.
One of the things that has disturbed and dismayed me from the start has been the fact that despite seeming to want, at a high level, the same thing, the two trusts BPT and TNMOC have never seemed to be able to work well together. I have never quite understood this. Practically everyone that I have ever spoken to, involved in either trust, has been a good person who obviously wants the right thing to happen. They have all seemed to have the long term interest of Bletchley Park’s future in mind and to want the best for the whole site. Why then are we in the situation we find ourselves in today where the two trusts seem to be at loggerheads?
I’ve stressed about this for years, I’ve tried talking to people on both sides, almost all of whom I respect. I was invited to join BPT in 2012 by Sir John Scarlett and became a trustee for 18 months. My main goal in becoming a trustee was to try to ensure Bletchley Park as a whole’s future success, with a fundamental part of that being trying to help both trusts work together with a view to at some point becoming a single trust. I sought to get BPT to agree to ask TNMOC to go to external mediation together to get them talking to each other and working on a way of moving forward together. Unfortunately I was not able to persuade the board to take that route.
When it became apparent to me late last year that I could not achieve my goal, I resigned. I had failed.
I failed to make happen what I still think is a critical factor in the future success of Bletchley Park as a whole. If the two trusts cannot work together, the future success of Bletchley Park as a fundamental, international heritage site is under threat.
I believe that mediation and getting both trusts talking to each other is the best way forward in ensuring a safe and successful future for Bletchley Park. I may not have been able to make that happen, but I think that there will be someone who will be able to. I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to work who that might be. Who would be the person, or organisation that would be able to strongly “encourage” this solution to happen?
It has often occurred to me that maybe it would have helped to have more women involved at a high level. BPT and TNMOC are not exclusively male, but they are mainly male. Would having a few more women involved to encourage communication and collaboration rather than competition been a good idea? I think so. Having a gender balance can make a difference in these types of situations.
It would have to be someone that both trusts will listen to and work with. My first thought was Baroness Trumpington. She worked at Bletchley Park during the war, is formidable and reasonable, along with a great sense of humour. Other ideas have been Ed Vaizey at DCMS and the Heritage Lottery Fund who are currently funding BPT. I have discussed this with several friends who also care deeply about Bletchley Park and have deep knowledge of the situation. Brian Randell from University of Newcastle who has done so much for Bletchley Park and TNMOC over the years, Bill Thompson from the BBC and Lucian Hudson, Head of Communications at the Open University. We all agree that the two trusts must work together and that mediation is key to making that happen (please correct me if I am wrong gentlemen and I will amend this).
In an interview with The Guardian yesterday I said that I thought mediation, getting the two trusts around a table talking together absolutely what is needed, and that I believe it will happen. We need to get them both discussing their issues with an external, objective mediator, only then can we move this situation forward. One of the problems is that everything is not on the table, no real time, full and frank discussions around all of the issues that exist have happened (to my knowledge). Like any situation where there is a breakdown in a relationship, a chain of reactions going from one side to the other is not useful. We need the equivalent of Relate, relationship counselling, but for organisations rather than individuals. Does that exist? I thought of ACAS but they unfortunately are not appropriate.
I believe that the fact that this dispute is now in the public eye is a good thing. It has opened up to the public a situation that has festered long enough. The UK public and many people around the world absolutely LOVE Bletchley Park. It is an awesome place. The place where more than 10,000 people, mainly young women, worked to save *millions* of lives during World War 2. The birthplace of computer science, the place where Alan Turing and others like him worked tirelessly for us. So that we and millions of others around the world like us could live in peace. We owe it to these people, and to the site itself, to now help these two organisations work together. To make Bletchley Park the successful, international heritage site that we can all be proud of. We CAN do that. It MUST happen.
The infighting has gone on long enough. Now is the time for BPT and TNMOC to work together. Let’s help them to do that by not taking sides, but by encouraging them to work together and by supporting them both. They need our help. Let’s give it to them. Lest we forget.
I welcome your comments and suggestions.