THE headteacher of two West Somerset primary schools has released an extraordinary letter attacking the chairman of the West Somerset Railway plc.

Julie Norman, who is the executive headteacher of Crowcombe and Stogumber Primary Schools, wrote an open letter to the chairman of the West Somerset Railway plc Jonathan Jones-Pratt, which accuses the railway plc of ‘misappropriating’ £96,000 of Hinkley C money and says there is a ‘culture of bullying’ at West Somerset Railway - claims which the plc ‘vigorously denies’.

In her open letter - which was sent with the schools’ masthead - Mrs Norman said: “I feel the time has come for me to speak out about how the West Somerset Railway Plc has affected my families and local residents in a negative way.

“I firmly believe, and always have, that our positions are of guardianship...because the organisation belongs to the community, not us.”

Mrs Norman states she feels Mr Jones-Pratt’s leadership has ‘isolated, driven out and ignored the community’.

“I have spoken to many of my parents and friends and families of my schools and they are so negatively affected by the decisions you and your board are making it has caused a very strong ripple effect across West Somerset,” she writes.

The headteacher then goes on to say she understands from speaking to volunteers and workers that £96,000 funding secured under a HPC bid for a project to encourage apprenticeships, encourage the community to become volunteers, and have children from 18 schools along the line to visit the railway, ‘has been spent in other areas of the organisation and the key targets set out with that money are not now supporting the community engagement it was awarded for’.”

However West Somerset Railway plc said the matter really concerned the West Somerset Railway Association as the grant recipient.

A spokesman for West Somerset Railway plc said: “Mrs Norman’s untrue assertion that HPC monies have in some way been misappropriated by the WSR plc for other uses is vigorously denied and that can be easily proven by the WSRA and WSR plc via audit trails if needs be and the facts.”

The WSR plc also said Mrs Norman’s letter to Mr Jones-Pratt was ‘not only wildly inaccurate, but also offensive’.

The WSR plc spokesman continued: “It is also very surprising that her letter was written on official school-headed, note-paper in Mrs Norman’s capacity as an Executive Headteacher of two local, Church of England-funded schools, which would therefore imply that both the Governing Boards of the two schools and the CoE Diocese sanctioned her to send it.”

Mike Sherwood, the chairman of WSRA responded to Mrs Norman’s letter by saying: “WSRA have submitted detailed accounts to the HPC Community Fund indicating what this ‘ring fenced’ money has been used for during the first year of the grant and we are working closely with the HPC Community Fund manager to ensure the year two spending is targeting the community areas that the fund thinks are most appropriate.

“While I realise that the money may not have been spent in exactly the way that was set out in the original grant application, it has been spent on the community engagement objectives that were agreed.”

The WSRA went on to state that events had been run in the local community during 2019, 'some directly involving the railway in a support role and others reaching out into the community', with examples cited including Somerset Day, the Halloween Spooktacular, and many Train Play clubs run in local venues.

The WSRA say these events 'were all designed to engage with the local community and promote the required funding objectives'.

Mrs Norman said she hoped her letter would ‘encourage others to speak out’ about what was happening at the railway.