Wac Arts: Meeting with critics ‘constructive’, but staffer raises furlough concern

Longstanding Wac Arts employee Ben Bennett feels he has lost out by not being placed on furlough. Pi

Longstanding Wac Arts employee Ben Bennett feels he has lost out by not being placed on furlough. Picture: Ben Bennett - Credit: Archant

The long-awaited meeting between execs at the Belsize Park charity Wac Arts and a group of high-profile critics was a “constructive” one, and the trustees will now take a number of recommendations to a board meeting later this month.

WAC Arts

WAC Arts - Credit: Polly Hancock

Meanwhile one longstanding employee has criticised the charity’s use of the furlough scheme, claiming he ought to have been placed on the scheme.

Ben Bennett, who was a student at the arts college and has taught there for two decades, said that he had lost up to £6,000 in income this year, and was worried for his home.

But Wac Arts’ chief exec Darius Khwaja said the college had received legal advice about its use of the furlough scheme, adding: “All staff and sessional workers were treated equally based on their contractual status and in line with the external advice we received.”

He said a formal investigation into Ben’s concerns had found the complaint should not be upheld.

READ MORE: Charity Commission encourages Wac Arts to ‘rebuild trust’ with community He said the meeting with critics Wac Arts Concerns – which includes playwright Che Walker and Olivier-award winning actress Sheila Atim – had been a positive one.

Ben, supportive of the Concerns group, is employed as a sessional worker – meaning he is contracted when work is available for specific projects – and Wac Arts, on the basis of legal advice, did not put these staff on the furlough scheme.

He told this newspaper: “What’s hard to understand about my situation is the lack of care. Essentially because I’ve not been paid, I’m worried for my home.”

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He said that as a BAME man, his situation was an example of why the Wac Arts Concerns group had concerns about the organisation’s diversity.

Mr Khwaja explained staff “were furloughed where doing so would protect their job in the short-term”.

He aadded: ““Racism will not be tolerated at Wac Arts and we take any allegation very seriously. I am proud to be the first CEO of WAC Arts from an ethnic minority background. We are continually striving to improve diversity and recognise that we must go further to reflect the community we work within.”

The chief exec continued by saying a formal governance review was in place and Wac Arts was working hard to continue its “life-changing work”.

“We followed Government guidance to understand who we could place on furlough and then sought and followed external legal advice on the matter to ensure that we worked consistently and fairly across the charity,” he said.

“We continued to engage sessional workers throughout lockdown to provide as much work as possible through this difficult period.”