[Diggers350] Autocratic clique: National Trust's Chartwell 'control freaks' exposed

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Tue Aug 10 01:36:19 BST 2021

Award-winning gardener, 63, at Churchill's 
wartime home Chartwell WINS £50,000 unfair 
dismissal and sexual discrimination claim against 
National Trust bosses who promoted a man ahead of 
her and humiliated her in front of visitors


    * Claire Bryant quit role at Chartwell House 
saying Nation Trust 'broke her spirit'
    * Tribunal has since found she was 
'constructively unfairly dismissed' by the trust
    * The panel heard Ms Bryant was passed over 
for promotion despite being more qualified and 
interviewed better than the male candidate who was offered role
    * Trust has been ordered to pay nearly 
£50,000 in lost wages and compensation

A former employee at a National Trust property 
has described how the organisation 'completely 
broke [her] spirit' during a three-year battle 
that has ended with her being awarded nearly 
£50,000 in compensation by an employment tribunal.

The ruling, published in July, shows judges 
unanimously decided that Claire Bryant, from 
Tatsfield, was 'constructively and unfairly 
dismissed' by the charity when she worked at Sir 
Winston Churchill's former home, Chartwell, which 
is now owned and run by the trust.

Constructive dismissal is when you’re forced to 
leave your job against your will because of your employer’s conduct.

The 63-year-old has been awarded just over 
£49,000 in compensation for unfair dismissal, discrimination and harassment.

Claire, who was employed as a kitchen gardener at 
Chartwell for five years before resigning in June 
2018, said: 'I can honestly say, I have never 
been closer to a complete nervous breakdown than 
I have through the last three years. It has been 
horrendous, absolutely horrendous.

'For me, it has never, ever been about the money. 
It's about being able to stand up for yourself. I 
wouldn't want any of my family, or anybody's 
family, to have to go through this.'

The tribunal, held remotely via video at Ashford 
in Kent, upheld complaints of direct 
discrimination and harassment on the grounds of 
sex in relation to a job that Claire was invited 
to apply for, and which was given to a male 
applicant who scored significantly lower than her in the interview process.

The second part of that interview, the tribunal 
heard, was supposed to feature scenario-based 
questions related to the role of senior gardener in the Chartwell portfolio.

But Claire says she was instead 'humiliated' in 
front of members of the public outside the 
Chartwell café, with criticisms raised about her 
performance in her existing role, despite her 
previous four Performance and Development Reviews 
(PDRs) being rated 'exceptional' or 'very good', with 'high potential'.

At a liability hearing on April 15 and 16 of this 
year, Claire's counsel told the tribunal none of 
the issues had been raised previously and she 
felt the meeting was conducted in this manner to reduce her chances of success.

Attempts to raise her concerns with the way the 
process was conducted, at the very highest level 
in the National Trust, fell on deaf ears.

After the panel upheld every part of her claim, 
Claire felt relieved but said 'there was no joy'.

She said the National Trust 'completely broke 
[her] spirit' and it will take 'a very long time' for her to recover.
Pictured: Ms Bryant worked at Chartwell House, the former home

Pictured: Ms Bryant worked at Chartwell House, 
the former home of Sir Winston Churchill

Speaking about the judgment, she said: 'I felt 
relief that I didn't have to feel intimidated or 
afraid anymore, and relief that I had my voice 
heard because I had been shouting into the wind for three years.'

As well as her own duties as kitchen gardener, 
Claire managed a team of up to 50 volunteers and 
said she 'absolutely loved' her job.

Having started out as a garden volunteer in 2011, 
she became employed on a temporary basis as 
kitchen gardener in 2012, but secured the job permanently in 2013.

She won numerous awards during her employment, 
and the work of her volunteer team meant the 
Chartwell kitchen garden was filmed for a national TV advert.

However, as time went on, she claims she was made to feel 'worthless'.

Claire believes tensions first arose towards the 
end of 2017 due to an issue surrounding the 
length of volunteers' tea breaks - referred to as 
'tea break-gate' in her correspondence with the National Trust.

When complaints about the length of these breaks 
from senior staff were made, Claire said she 
'challenged' them and defended the volunteers, 
and she thinks that is when her 'card was marked'.

She said: 'The volunteers were rightly very 
upset. They were giving their time for free; they 
would come in for seven to eight hours a day, 
regardless of the weather, and they would never abuse the tea breaks.'

Speaking after the judgment, Ms Bryant (pictured) 
said she felt relief that she didn't have to feel 
intimidated or afraid anymore and that it had never been about the compensation

Claire said she was encouraged to apply for the 
role of senior gardener and she submitted her 
application in March 2018. At this point she had 
more than 10 years of professional gardening 
experience both in the public and private sector.

In the first round of formal interviews on May 
11, 2018, she scored 22.5 out of 30 and 27.5 out 
of 30 in two separate interviews.

She later discovered, just days before the 
tribunal, that the external male candidate who 
was offered the job scored 16.5 out of 30 for both.

She said she thought the first stage 'went well', 
and she was subsequently invited for an 'informal 
chat' on May 17, as the applicants had been reduced from four down to two.

When she arrived, she was surprised to discover 
the meeting was being held outside the Chartwell 
café in front of members of the public. She 
described the meeting as a 'character assassination'.

'I felt as though I was being attacked,' she 
said. 'It was a very, very uncomfortable 
conversation and I was feeling extremely upset 
about the way the interview was conducted.

'It seemed inappropriate for it to be held in an 
outdoor space. If it was an 'informal chat', as I 
was told, then I can understand that, but this was not an informal chat.'

She continued: 'I thought the questions that were 
asked were completely imbalanced as they were 
directly related to my current role, whereas the 
other candidate, who was not an internal 
candidate, couldn't have been judged on his performance.'

She said this role had been advertised four times 
previously and a woman had never been hired.

Claire raised concerns about the 'informal chat' 
with senior staff and said it became clear that 
there were 'many objections about [her] work' - 
none of which were based on facts, she says.

She felt that her accomplishments, dedication, 
and previous PDRs were not taken into consideration for the new role.

She added: 'I was completely shaken about what 
had happened, it was so upsetting. I came home 
from work on the Saturday evening [May 19] and I 
thought "I am worth more than this"; I thought "I 
don't want to work for an environment that doesn't value me".'

Claire emailed her resignation to the charity on 
May 20 stating that it was due to the way she had 
been treated, and because she had 'no confidence 
that a truthful resolution would be found'.

In her email, she said: 'It is evident from the 
events of the last few weeks that I am not 
respected for my knowledge, skills or ability and 
as such I have decided to make your decision 
simpler by removing myself from the application 
process and now wish to hand in my resignation.'

Claire was signed off work by her GP with stress 
and anxiety and her exit interview was eventually 
conducted on June 20. She left feeling like nobody would listen to her.

Claire wrote to the director general on July 13 
and asked for an investigation to be carried out 
'into the use of bullying tactics by the senior 
management' within the Chartwell portfolio.

On August 16, she received a response saying the 
director general had 'concluded that this was 
undertaken in accordance with our recruitment guidelines.'

It added: 'I have found no evidence of bullying 
or concerns regarding management methods at Chartwell.'

Claire said this is when she decided to take the National Trust to a tribunal.

The compensation was broken down into seven 
parts, including a basic award, compensation for 
loss of earnings, counselling costs, compensation 
for injury to feelings, and uplift in respect of tax.

However, on July 9 this year, Claire said she 
received a payment of £41,866.93 from the 
National Trust - a shortfall of £7,430.31, which she queried.

On July 13, she was told via email that the 
National Trust believes that, in order to comply 
with HMRC rules, it is obliged to apply an 
emergency tax code, despite the remedy including an amount to cover tax.

Claire said she will now have to wait until April 
next year to claim this money back, but she is 
investigating the deduction. She feels the 
charity 'just wanted to have the last word'.

Claire said it will take time for her to move 
forward and she has recently completed her Level 
3 course in counselling. She hopes to one day 
combine counselling with horticulture and do 
ecotherapy in an environment that she trusts.

She added: 'There's light, and I have always felt 
the same way with every challenge that has come 
my way - at the time it feels awful, but when you 
look backwards, you think 'if I'd have not gone 
through that, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now'.'

The National Trust refused to respond to a series 
of questions regarding Claire's case, but a 
spokesperson said: 'While we are clearly 
disappointed by the decision of the tribunal, we respect the judgment.

'However, the judge did make it clear in the 
remedy judgement that the discrimination was not 
deliberate and that it was a clear case of unconscious bias.'
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And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, 
he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and 
gave to them. 
<http://biblehub.com/luke/24-31.htm>31 And their 
eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he 
vanished out of their 
sight.  http://biblehub.com/kjv/luke/24.htm 
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