Concern over CoolTan’s future, as ‘talented and tireless’ founder is suspended


Supporters of a leading mental health arts charity have rallied behind the organisation’s disabled founder and chief executive, who they fear is about to be ousted by its trustees.

They believe the future of award-winning CoolTan Arts is at risk because of the treatment handed out to its boss, Michelle Baharier (pictured).

The charity, based in Southwark, south London, offers creative workshops, self-advocacy, art projects, “stigma-busting cultural walks”, a public art gallery, and an inclusive volunteering and training programme.

But Baharier, who has built up the organisation over the last two decades, has been suspended by its trustees since last month, and has apparently yet to be told why – other than that she faces allegations of bullying and harassment of staff – while one of the trustees has apparently resigned in protest at her treatment.

On one occasion, when Baharier tried to enter the premises, one of the trustees called the police, and later arranged for the locks to be changed.

Her supporters have criticised the “disproportionate” action taken by the trustees, who have hired a firm of human resources consultants to deal with the dispute, rather than using the free services of the conciliation service ACAS.

They say CoolTan has been closed for a total of about 14 days since her suspension, and have launched a campaign for her to be reinstated.

In just three days after a petition backing Baharier was launched, it was flooded with support for her from both CoolTan participants and other disabled artists.

Writer and performer Penny Pepper said on the website: “Michelle is a great talent and a wonderful human being. Let’s focus the fight in the right direction, to those who ARE attacking us!”

Bob Skelly, who reportedly resigned after 10 years as a trustee over the way Baharier has been treated, said: “Michelle IS CoolTan Arts which she has built up over 24 years and is faced with being ousted by a group of come-latelies who know virtually nothing about CoolTan or its history and achievements.”

Another supporter said on the petition website that Baharier had “helped and supported thousands of people” and “works tirelessly to support those experiencing mental ill-health, ensuring they have access to services, and those who are most vulnerable are safeguarded”.

It is believed that the disagreements with the board began in January over Baharier’s plans to bring in more experienced trustees, while some staff are said to be unhappy at her decision to make one of their colleagues redundant.

One trustee, Richard Truss, said Baharier had been accused of “bullying and intimidation of staff, something which the trustees are duty bound to take seriously, not least in an organization devoted to mental well-being”.

He said: “The trustees are doing their best to resolve this as soon as possible and in the meantime CoolTan continues to be open as usual and the regular participants are still attending.”

He said it was “not fitting” that they should allow Baharier to return to work “whilst the matter is in process”.

He said that when she did try to return to work at CoolTan “all but one of the staff walked out”. Supporters of Baharier say all the staff walked out.

Maki Spanoudis, a CoolTan volunteer, has written to trustees demanding answers, and pointing out Baharier’s long and dedicated service to CoolTan.

She told them that “no one is more dedicated to its success and to participants’ interests”, and added: “There are healthy ways to resolve personnel issue that don’t resort to jeopardising CoolTan, causing Michelle immense distress, and negatively affecting the lives of so many people.

“CoolTan has been in my life for many years, it would be really devastating were it to significantly change or close.”

Spanoudis told Disability News Service: “Michelle is a lovely, very caring, warm-hearted person, full of energy, self-discipline, and has artistic ideas coming out her ears!

“I have seen her overcome many personal and professional difficulties over the years, never letting them stop her working all hours for CoolTan.”

Steve Barbe, who runs musical workshops at CoolTan and has been involved with the organisation for 20 years, said he did not know the nature of the complaints made about Baharier, but he said: “I do suspect it is out of proportion.

“I can’t imagine what she did deserves this being in limbo for so long and jeopardising the project.

“It certainly could jeopardise the future of CoolTan. Right now it is jeopardising the well-being of service-users because they are not getting access to the facilities.

“I think there should be a very quick resolution to this. I would like to see Michelle reinstated. Knowing Michelle as I do, I cannot imagine that what she did deserves this.”


  • User Ratings (5 Votes)
  • Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90

    It is only Michelle’s 24/7 passion, commitment and hard work that has kept Cooltan going, making a critical difference to so many people’s lives in south London and beyond. Her track record speaks for itself, all the more remarkable given the almost total collapse of the rest of the Disability Arts sector across London following wave after wave of cuts. Michelle has my complete support, both as a disabled artist, as Artistic Director of Together! 2012 CIC – where her support and consultancy work has enabled us to develop a thriving poetry and arts programme of our own – and as Co Chair of Regard, the national LGBT disabled people’s organisation. It seems to me that the Board are the ones who need replacing, and I for one would volunteer to be a temporary new member to assist with bringing an end to this situation asap.

  • its about time

    its about time that Michelle Bahaier was dispensed with and booted out of Cooltan Arts

    She is aware of the allegations that have been put to her as she has commited numerous counts of Gross Misconduct, which has comitted over a substaintial number of years

    Just because she has the title of CEO she thought that she was untouchable and could do what she want irrespective of anyone elses feelings

    Its about time that she left as she is a disgrace to the mental health service

  • Save CoolTan from Shysters

    Its about time – or is it Karen Unrue? or Victor Logan? someone with a vested interest in removing Michelle Baharier who not only set up and run CoolTan successfully for 25 years and raised £2.5 million until the hostile takeover by Unrue and Logan’s mates but has been vindicated by the fact that the hijackers Herbie Taylor and Tom McCabe have previous for running a charity into the ground i.e. Little Starz and will probably fritter the money away as they are incapable of raising funds or caring about those with Mental health issues.

    Its about time – how do you know Michelle is aware of the allegations, how do you know she has committed gross misconduct? Who has told you or why are you spreading lies on behalf of the CoolTan cabal – how much are they paying you?

    How do you know Michelle thought she was ‘untouchable’, as we are certain it is you Unrue, any evidence you provide will be irrevocably tarnished by your constant piping up on social media to bad mouth Michelle, all of it has been recorded and will be used as evidence to show that you are unfit as a witness as you are prejudiced and in the pocket of Herbie Taylor.

    Its about time you Unrue disappeared as I hear you didn’t do much work anyway – just did lots of surfing on Facebook, how did that help people experiencing mental distress? You wanted the money for doing nowt unlike Michelle who has always worked her heart out – you wouldn’t know about that.

    Michelle is better off without the cruel malicious liars who have hijacked CoolTan and will move on to better things, unlike Its about time…