Hitchin Bee Centre - the debate part 4

By Frank Everest
Robin makes a number of points, many of which I believe to be mistaken.
I feel that his complaints against the HBKA executive committee and the NHBKA Committee should not go unchallenged. I strongly support the concept of the Hitchin Bee Centre, and so has the NHBKA committee, as he should have recalled, having been at the meeting where it was discussed. We did not agree to setting up a new organisation – if Robin thinks we did, he was hearing what he wanted to hear!

Having retired as NHBKA Chairman at our last AGM, I stress that these comments reflect only my own opinions.
  • Robin asserts that “North Herts’ decision that Hitchin Bee Centre should be a new organisation”. I think not: at our committee meeting, we declined to support the Centre with finance, but supported his project. Since it was on our patch, we understood that the decision might suggest to outsiders a lack of enthusiasm, but we had not been involved until Robin had made all his decisions, and so felt aggrieved that we had been involved without prior consent.
  • Robin’s concern to get NHBKA or HBKA support is all about getting money for his project, and so he justifies a new organisation to act as a “host” to sponsor or support getting external funding. The fact that I refer to it as “his project” and not “the HBKA’s project” says much about his problem. Derek Driver’s observations reflect that issue, too.
  • I quite understand that Robin is dismayed by the NHBKA and the executive of the HBKA not promising to support financially or functionally the Hitchin Bee centre. He should understand that their reluctance might stem from the fact that they feel they have been steam-rollered into agreement because he has gone ahead with arranging finance, access, etc., before getting any go-ahead from either organisation. Had he shared his vision and requirements before firming up his plans with the local authorities, etc., they would have had an opportunity to criticise and change the scheme to meet their reservations. Having done so, they might have been keen to go along with plans for which they felt some degree of “ownership”.
  • He asserts that the NHBKA and the HBKA are not fulfilling their duty as charities to “educate and further beekeeping”. The majority of the NHBKA members’ subscriptions are taken by the BBKA, whose aims and objectives I believe fulfil charitable status requirements. So, I would argue, the NHBKA also fulfils its charitable functions as a result of its sizeable contributions to the BBKA, as well as its own contributions to external education, swarm collection, etc., and I totally reject the suggestion that our charitable status is “fraudulent”.
  • I have misgivings, which I have shared with Robin, about the siting of the Centre. He has modified his plan significantly since I offered my opinions, but I still wonder whether the allotment holders will be as sanguine as he thinks they will be when they are getting stung on bad days. It simply won’t wash when he suggests that we should install “quiet bees”. Like Derek Driver, I wish I could share his optimism.
  • The undoubted enthusiasm he has raised with a number of people (not principally NHBKA members) is praiseworthy. However, I have my doubts about whether the initial enthusiasm will be sustained by sufficient people on a weekly basis (as he suggests) at the out-apiary when swarms or stings are being endured by the allotment holders.
  • The NHBKA Committee, at the meeting Robin attended, expressed severe reservations about formal involvement with the Bee centre because of our worries about risks to the public (amongst other things). Since my wife had a near-death experience of anaphylactic shock following two stings at Boxwood a couple of years ago, we all now understand that beekeeping cannot be seen as low-risk. The NHBKA Committee seemed to want to avoid carrying any shared responsibility if a disaster struck a member of the public. Our collective public liability insurance would need to be copper-bottomed if someone actually died close to the Bee Centre, leaving aside the stress on our consciences if it happened. I doubt whether the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens can Bee Diseases and individual public liability insurance cover.
  • I understand Robin’s enthusiasm for promoting his long deep hives on the site. I have one myself, and appreciate its advantages, but also its drawbacks. I feel that management of the double-ended hive is more complicated than management of standard hives, and the Long Deep is not ideal for beginners.
  • As Derek has pointed out, Robin’s enthusiasm for Long Deep Hives has clouded the discussions. Inevitably, Derek reflects others’ suspicions that Robin’s real motive in setting up the Bee Centre is to sell and advertise his own product, and their resentment at feeling used. I hope the suspicion is without basis, but surely Robin can see that his involvement and evangelism could be biasing a rational assessment of their suitability for the Bee Centre?
  • For example, it’s a pity he didn’t plan to add, at the most, two Long Deep hives to a collection of National, Commercial, and WBC to show the public what is available. The double-ended exits on the Long Deep hives will be a big disadvantage on the site Robin has chosen because it’ll be impossible to aim all the hive exits away from the nearby allotments and over the river. This drawback can be avoided with single entrance hives.

I’m sorry to sound so negative, but I do feel that Robin has brought his problems in getting Hertfordshire beekeepers’ support on himself. He has not brought us into his planning before we found we were being asked to agree.

The NHBKA has a long history of happy dialogue and continued support from its members. It has not been prone to splitting or schism – things which are always apt to happen when topics are not discussed openly in a timely fashion.

Robin seems to be seeking to split the membership into those who support him (including non-members of the NHBKA who cannot be aware of the effect of their involvement) and a part of the NHBKA membership. He seems to think that a new beekeepers’ association might afford him the backing to make grants available. It might indeed get the money, but such a schism is unlikely to sustain long-term support for his project from either camp. Thus the success of the Bee Centre could be prejudiced, and that is something I regret.

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