But the Brontë Society has been plunged into turmoil amid claims it has “lost its way” after dozens of members raised serious questions about the way it is being governed. About 40 members of the literary society, which is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year, have expressed concerns and how its governance is having an impact on the world-famous Brontë Parsonage Museum, which it owns. Critics are close to getting 50 signatures to force an extraordinary general meeting in a bid to oust the ruling council. In a letter, members John Thirlwell and Janice Lee claimed there was an urgent need to “modernise” the society.
They want a new council to be elected with new members “to bring higher levels of professionalism and experience to the society”. The letter calls for work to be carried out to “raise the profile and reputation of the museum’s collections, programmes, and research”. It concludes: “The remaining task is to identify members with board-level experience of charity and company work who will stand at the EGM for election as members of the new council. “Without such leadership, the society will wither away, and the legacy of the Brontës will have been squandered.”
Mrs Lee told The Yorkshire Post that, in her opinion, the current council appeared to be “enthusiastic amateurs”.Mr Thirlwell claimed the running of the Parsonage Museum should be left in the hands of museum staff, putting an end to what he called the “micro-managing” by the society’s council.
He added: “The big picture is that the Brontë Society has lost its way. The museum should be run by a Trust and in a more professional way.” Mr Thirlwell claimed a recent consultants’ report concluded the Brontë Society was not best placed to be a fund-raiser because it was members’ club.
Members including Mr Thirlwell and Mrs Lee are still angry at the sudden departure in June of Ann Sumner, the society’s executive director, after just 16 months in the role. Questions have been asked about the circumstances of her leaving, but details have not been disclosed. Mr Thirlwell, a TV producer, said: “I, for one, would want Ann Sumner to come back.
“She had improved the relations between the village of Haworth and the Brontë Society, which has not always seen eye to eye with the village. She was very well respected in the museums field.”
Mrs Lee, who is a volunteer at the museum, added: “Ann Sumner came with a remarkable CV – she was amazing and had already started making inroads into taking the Parsonage forward.”
The Brontë Society Council confirmed it was aware a letter had been sent “expressing concerns” over the way it was governed. It said: “The letter was sent by two current members, to other members of the society, but not directly to the council. Trustees welcome feedback from members and take the concerns of members very seriously and will therefore be responding formally to all members without delay. “The council is working hard with an experienced and accomplished leadership team to ensure that the business planning of the Brontë Parsonage Museum is on a secure footing.” yorkshirepost