Community group GRACE's operations suspended by Grantham church – and police investigate allegations
A community group launched to help people struggling during the Covid pandemic has been suspended from working out of a church in Grantham over fund-raising and safeguarding concerns.
GRACE (Grantham and Rural Areas Community Effort) has been stopped from carrying out its fund-raising work from St John’s Church, Spitalgate, following the concerns raised.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the church, rural dean Father Stuart Cradduck, said: “Due to internal issues, regrettably the work at St John’s, Spitalgate, has had to be temporarily suspended.”
The Journal understands that a number of people have asked Lincolnshire Police to investigate the activities of GRACE. The force was asked for a comment on its investigation but it says it is unable to give details of the allegations at this time.
On the group's Facebook page today (Friday), the founder of GRACE, Jayne Robb, said: "We will be archiving the GRACE page during this difficult time. Thank you for the many, many wonderful messages of support and expressions of desire to keep this wonderful work going. We will be making no further comment until the investigation is complete, save to say we are fully cooperating, and our aim is to return to our core tasks of supporting families and individuals in Grantham and Rural Areas as soon as we can."
A trustee of the group, district councillor Charmaine Morgan, said she had offered to help look into the issues. A member of South Kesteven District Council, Coun Morgan said: “I think it is very unfortunate that with the very best intentions people have taken on more than they could cope with and I think they have run before they could walk.
“As far as my position is concerned I have offered to try and help them move forward and go through a transitional stage, but that will only be if I feel that is possible when I have examined all the materials and had discussions with the interested parties.
“I have been advised that there are accusations that funds have gone in and have not gone into the overheads or where they are meant to be. From what I can tell so far that is not the case. What I would say is that they need a much more robust process around receiving funds. A simple example would be if someone makes a donation then there should be a receipt book and they get a receipt for it and all donations are recorded properly.
“I think there could be a perception of an issue if they don’t get their protocols right and their procedures right, so basically I have stepped forward because I think they have done an amazingly good amount of work for the community and because of that I am prepared to spend some time with them to try and help resolve the issues they may have so they can move forward on a sound footing.”
Safeguarding issues have been reported with former volunteers raising concerns about the way individuals have been treated within the group.
Jason and Tracey Desmond were volunteers with GRACE until they left earlier this year after raising concerns over the way the group was being run.
Jason told the Journal: “We wanted to join the group to help the community and those who are vulnerable and need help. It was a good thing on paper and it should have been run properly. There were people there who have done amazing things and without them a lot of people would not have got the proper help.”
He added: “Tracey did want to say to the community she has stuck her neck out for them and put everything on hold to get what people deserved, the right justice. And she would do this for anyone to help.
“Me and Tracey have worked hours to gather evidence. Tracey wanted to make sure this does not happen again to the community and going forward there are people out there that are caring and do want to help.”
Another former volunteer, who asked not to be named, said: “After too many concerns, a few volunteers did their own checks and went to the police and there has been a lot more since. An investigation has been ongoing for two months now.”
Jill Moon, an administrator of the GRACE Facebook page, posted after the group was suspended from the church: “For the next couple of weeks GRACE will be continuing our support from an alternative address. We will be contactable through the GRACE page. For ANY support that is needed please contact the admin team.
“This gives this important group for the town the time and space it needs to develop systems, making us grow back stronger. Many thanks for your continued support.”
Ms Robb founded GRACE from her home early last year as a Covid support group on Facebook and it has grown to have 14,000 members. Once she had run out of storage space for donations the group was allowed to set up in St John’s Church, off Station Road East, and received donations from the district and county councils as well as individual councillors from their ward grants. The group signed a lease with the church to use the property.
The group has seen around 600 people a week visit the church to ask for help or give donations. It has provided furniture for families in need, helped with transport to hospital, funded hot meals for schoolchildren during half-term, provided food and hot drinks to the vulnerable and delivered food parcels to those self-isolating and shielding throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.