Castle comes under fire again

The Castle Furniture Project's premises at Rodger's Mill, Cupar
The Castle Furniture Project's premises at Rodger's Mill, Cupar

More former volunteers at the Cupar-based charity Castle Furniture have come forward with claims of unfair treatment.

Last week, the Fife Herald ran a story in which it was alleged that long-term volunteers were being replaced by people on community payback and Government -backed employment schemes, and that morale was poor.

The allegations were strongly refuted by project manager Silv Ingram, who said the team was ‘energised’.

However, since the article appeared, five more former volunteers have contacted us with allegations that include ‘a culture of bullying’; their tips being kept and bric-a-brac donated by the public going missing.

The charity was established 21 years ago to help people with mental health issues and to offer furniture at knockdown prices to people on low incomes – but now it’s alleged that items are being sold at prices that are too high and one caller, who didn’t wish to be named, said his mental health had deteriorated as the result of an incident in which he says he was humiliated in front of fellow volunteers.

“I have nothing but praise for Drew Mayne, who’s the resource co-ordinator and who does treat people with respect,” he said.

“I was there for about nine months as a volunteer, as I thought it would get me out of the house, but, after this incident, my mental health suffered and I had to increase my medication.

“There is definitely a culture of bullying there . Three people left on the same day as I did.”

Another woman, who contacted us by e-mail, said: “Reading the article reminded me of crying on Sunday nights because I didn’t want to go to work at a place that was built around the idea of helping people, because I felt so humiliated and degraded.

“Working in a mental health charity resulted in me being put on anti-depressants due to being constantly put down.”

A third former worker also claimed expenses had been slashed for volunteers using their own transport and the £300 in tips they’d collected over the course of a year had been withheld.

Elizabeth Calderwood, who is chairman of the board, said: “Castle Furniture is a well-established local charity which has done an immeasurable amount of good throughout the community since its inception.

“In recent years, a more business-like approach has been developed in running the charity, which has been integral to our continued success to provide more and varied opportunities for volunteers providing a viable enterprise that is successful within the community.

“The Board does not believe there is a bullying culture at Castle and has received no complaints.

“Any reports will be investigated in line with our procedures.

“In regard to the issue of tips, a decision was taken to establish a volunteer social fund for events providing a reward for volunteers and the opportunity to socialise. The bric-a-brac shop closed in early 2014 and we have received no complaints in regards to missing items – any reports would be investigated in line with our procedures.”

Ms Calderwood added she endorsed Ms Ingram’s invitation to visit the Project and talk to the staff and volunteers to get a feel ‘for the true impact it is making within the community and for these individuals.’