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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Exclusive: TFN lifts the lid on Wonka farce charity chief 

 

Pure imagination? Billy Coull has a dubious history of community 'activism'

An investigation by Third Force News has found that Billy Coull - the man behind the disastrous and now world famous AI-designed Willy Wonka event in Glasgow - is a charity CEO with questions to answer over his approach to governance, fundraising and finances. 

The self-styled businessman, charity worker, vlogger and AI-driven author shot to infamy over the past week after hundreds of angry families shared their distress having shelled out £35 a ticket for a distinctly disappointing Willy Wonka experience in a Glasgow warehouse. 

Workers and attendees have repeatedly shared their anger at the lack of preparation for the event, the sparse and shoddy decor, and Mr Coull’s promises of refunds for patrons after an angry altercation with families

While Mr Coull has questions to answer to the families his farce event let down, TFN can reveal that he also has serious questions to answer over his murky involvement in the charity sector.

It has now emerged that Billy Coull has a long and dubious history of “activism” in his local community in Glasgow, where he operated as the short-lived CEO of a charity which offered services ranging from a local food bank, to sexual health advice, benefits advice, trauma care and even emergency medical support. 

Mr Coull, along with members of the local parent council in the Pollok area of the city, created Gowanbank Community Hub in February 2021, with the organisation originally set up as a Community Interest Company (CIC), before registering as a charity in September of that year. 

The group, led by Mr Coull, state on its now-deleted website that it is “committed to delivering compassionate help and support to individuals and families, whether responding to an immediate crisis or supporting recovery activity”. 

Its website added: “We work to improve financial and emotional well-being and relationships. We aim to make a #phenomenalimpact on economic and food insecurity, deprivation, social isolation, and health inequality across the South of Glasgow.”

The charity also listed sections on “humanitarian aid”, “quarantine”, “distance education” and “personal development” as areas of support provided. Mr Coull lists himself as a doctor, but this qualification is attributed to the University of Sedona, which claims to provide “Metaphysical Degrees”. 

The charity’s website last appears to have been online in June 2022, with social media activity ceasing in May of that year. 

The charity changed its registered name with the charity regulator OSCR to Empowerity Scotland in August 2022, and moved its operating address to a site owned by Clyde Offices, located at 48 West George Street. When contacted by TFN, Clyde Offices were “unable to confirm” whether the charity is or has been registered at the property. 

Companies House records for Mr Coull state that he was born in April 1988 and show that he is currently an active director of three limited companies - House of Illuminati Ltd, Billy De Savage Ltd and Nexuma Holdings Ltd - registered at an address in London. 

The businessman’s House of Illuminati venture is the one responsible for the catastrophic Willy Wonka experience, while the Billy De Savage company appears to link to an online sales page with e-commerce brand Etsy, which is no longer active. No further information is available on Nexuma Holding. All three companies were registered within the last year, and no accounts are available. 

A further officer page on Companies House for Billy Coull - also born April 1988 - shows he was also the director of a consulting company also by the name of Nexuma, which dissolved in late 2022. The account also shows he is a former director of Gowanbank Community Hub Community Interest Company, which reportedly dissolved in January 2022 - months before the Hub itself ceased operations in May 2022. 

A further company, Empowerity Ltd, lists Mr Coull as a sole director and shares a name with the registered charity Empowerity, formerly known as Gowanbank Community Hub. This company was also dissolved, this time in November 2023, and no accounts are listed for either Gowanbank Community Hub or Empowerity on Companies House. 

Accounts published by Gowanbank Community Hub for its first year of operations claim that it raked in nearly £50,000 worth of income, including £10,305 of funding from Aberlour, £4,000 from an organisation listed as the “Suther Trust”, as well as £5,500 from the Corra Foundation and £10,000 of funding attributed to the Scottish Government and the Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector (GCVS). 

Corra Foundation confirmed that three grants were provided to Gowanbank Community Hub between June 2021 and November 2021. 

£5,500 was provided to Gowanbank Community Hub through the Winter Support Fund in November 2021, in line with Gowanbank’s reporting in their accounts. 

Earlier that year, in June, Gowanbank had also received £10,000 from the National Drugs Mission (NDM) Local Support Micro Fund. This fund was to “provide a range of one to one and group support to individuals impacted by drug use in the south Pollock (sic) area of Glasgow city” through the Scottish Government’s NDM funds, administered by the Corra Foundation. 

A further £3,000 was given to Gowanbank Community Hub by Corra through its Enabling Neighbourhood Communities Fund in August 2021. This £3,000 does not directly appear in the Community Hub’s annual accounts for 2021/22.

Aberlour told TFN that it could confirm that it “does not have or had a partnership with Gowanbank Community Hub” and that it also has not funded this organisation”. However, the £10,305 listed is attributed to the Aberlour Urgent Fund. 

Aberlour operates an Urgent Assistance Fund which “can provide immediate relief to families with children (aged 21 and under) who are suffering extreme hardship”. While applicants must have a sponsor to apply for such grants - which can include a third sector organisation - money is paid directly to individuals who apply, and is not at any point provided to a charity or sponsor. 

GCVS told TFN that its records showed that while Gowanbank Community Hub had previously been a member organisation, this had lapsed. 

The TSI added that it has “no record of a formal partnership arrangement with them, and we're not aware of any work that could be referred to as a partnership other than the organisation having been a recipient of the Community Mental Health and Wellbeing funding in 2021-22 (year 1).”

The Community Mental Health and Wellbeing fund was created by the Scottish Government, and administered by GCVS. 

A now-deleted post on the charity’s website - which also no longer exists - announced a partnership, beginning in January 2022, with the Scottish Government to “benefit local families in hardship struggling with energy costs”. 

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scottish Government have not provided funding directly to this organisation. Some time-limited funding has been provided to the organisation in previous years through third sector partners with the work delivered in line with the purposes of the grant.”

The only records of a Suther Trust online are linked to the ownership of parcel of land in the suburban American town of Chandler, Arizona - close to Phoenix, the largest city in the state - which was last assessed in 2013. 

A further £14,989 was brought forward to the charity’s account from its time as a CIC, along with a number of other small donations amounting to a total of £47,042 of income for 2021/22. 

While £47,042 worth of income was reported by the charity, its listed outgoings amounted to just £33,789, leaving £13,244 unaccounted for in the charity’s books. 

No further publication of accounts has been made by the charity since 2022, with OSCR reporting that the charity had “failed to provide all of the information on its finances by its annual submission deadline”, and was now 54 days overdue with its documents for 2022/23.

Chris Stephens, SNP MP for Glasgow South West, was one of those who raised concerns about the charity’s local work in 2022 and in the years since, and claimed that “there was a collective sigh of relief” within the community after the charity ended its work in mid-2022. 

He told TFN: “At the beginning the community were of the view that the Gowanbank Hub served a necessary service to address emergency food aid. A number of local organisations were keen to help, but stepped back due to concerns at how they were operating, and branching out to provide other services for which they appeared not to be qualified to provide. My office had to untangle benefit advice that they had provided, which saw constituents losing social security payments. 

“Some of the outlandish claims made by the Hub both online and in the media led to suspicions that something wasn't quite right. Unfortunately, due to these concerns, local organisations stepped back and Gowanbank Hub effectively isolated themselves. 

“This developed into growing anger when local organisations became under attack on social media, which alienated them even further. 

“My office raised concerns with appropriate agencies as did others. Once Gowanbank Hub ceased operations, there was a real sense locally of a sigh of relief. Other organisations have now stepped in to provide food aid provision. Last weekend's event has only served to justify the concerns expressed at the time.”

TFN is also aware of significant concerns that have been raised with both regulatory bodies and Police Scotland over financial handling and the charity’s operations. 

Multiple sources have told TFN that reports were made to the OSCR regarding Gowanbank Community Hub. 

An OSCR spokesperson told TFN: “We received concerns about the charity in 2022. 

“Based on the information we received, we determined there was no further regulatory action required from OSCR in relation to the charity’s finances.”

OSCR

TFN also understands that Gowanbank’s operations and concerns over their behaviour were raised with Police Scotland in 2022. 

Police Scotland was one of the many organisations - including the Scottish Government, Corra Foundation, GCVS, multiple housing associations, and other third sector organisations - which were identified as partner organisations of Gowanbank Community Hub during its operation. 

Police Scotland said in a statement: “We have no record of a complaint of financial irregularities being made to the police. In terms of the Police logo being used, no permission was granted for its use and we were not in partnership with them.”

The US Army Medical Center of Excellence, a US Government body and branch of the US army which is located at Fort Sam Houston, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, is also presented as a charity partner, with its logo used on advertising materials promoting the Hub’s work on social media. TFN approached the center for comment. 

Questions over financial irregularities relating to the charity follow concerns over Mr Coull’s “fantasist” approach to his role as CEO of Gowanbank, including outlandish claims regarding celebrity support. 

In 2021, Mr Coull and the hub were forced to remove claims surrounding a fundraising “gala” event which was reported to be held at Glasgow’s Doubletree Hilton hotel. Advertising for the event claimed that TV personalities and performers, including stylist and DJ Gok Wan and Ru Paul’s Drag Race contestant Joe Black, were booked to take part in the £95-per ticket event. 

Representatives for Gok Wan told TFN that they had no knowledge of either the claimed event - which never took place and saw a replacement organised in a local pub - or of Gowanbank Community Hub. 

A spokesman for Joe Black said: “We received an enquiry about Joe's availability for potential involvement, however the organiser never confirmed the date or signed the contract. Joe was removed from advertising and no legal proceedings were undertaken.”  

Mr Coull also attempted to use the charity he led to win a local council seat in the 2022 local elections. A website, now deleted, shows that Mr Coull distributed campaigning material in a bid to win the seat of Great Pollok at the 2022 Glasgow City Council elections. 

The material shows a “campaign office” at 415 Peat Road, the same address at which Gowanbank Community Hub was then registered and operated from. 

Mr Coull also asked for donations on his website, describing himself as the “people’s choice”, writing an eight-page manifesto made up largely of blurry stock images and promises to the local community. 

The list of final candidates for the election, held on 5 May 2022, did not see Mr Coull registered. His Twitter page, which advertised both his work with Gowanbank Community Hub and his reported election run, has not been active since 8 March 2022 - weeks before close of nominations in that election on 30 March of that year. No further mention of donations gathered were posted on Mr Coull’s public pages, and the website has since been removed. 

One local with knowledge of both Mr Coull’s operations during his time at Gowanbank Community Hub, and the local area, told TFN of the longstanding concerns which have existed in the community and among local organisations about Mr Coull and his running of the charity. 

They said: “They were struggling financially, they didn’t have enough food to feed people. He wanted to start pulling a wage and get more funds for the hub. My understanding is he was struggling to get charity recognition.

“I started digging into him and found he was advertising a gala dinner experience for £95. I immediately thought, this is bullshit. 

“I’m disappointed to see nothing happened after that event. Getting away with that gave him the gumption to put on the Willy Wonka nonsense. This was never going to happen, the guy is a fruit loop. 

“When the hub closed and he disappeared I breathed a huge sigh of relief. And then we found out about Willy Wonka.

“We did not have anything to do with him. That guy is a menace to society and will do something very damaging. He behaved like a complete fantasist. He claimed to be a doctor from some metaphysical university, having bought the title. 

“He also seemed to be getting funding from somewhere, as the hub stayed open, kept giving food out. No idea where he was getting his food from - claiming he was feeding a ridiculous amount of people. 

The local said that questions over donations of money and Christmas presents, gathered by the charity in late 2021, caused a “big stink” after Mr Coull “managed to get donations and money for Christmas presents” that “didn’t get dished out”. 

They added: “That was probably the final straw for him in the community. It’s one thing to con adults, it’s another to rip off children. 

“When the hub disappeared, I thought he had learned his lesson. He was going to run for a council seat and that nonsense. Then I heard nothing else until the Willy Wonka stuff. 

“I can’t imagine that other charitable organisations weren’t looking at this guy with a side eye, worried that he would hurt someone. 

“I don’t like vulnerable people being preyed on. The beautiful part of our community is that people will do what they can, and give more than they can afford. And he’s taking advantage of that. He disappeared with money, and he now stands to walk away from this Wonka nonsense richer.”

Another local activist, Donna, told TFN: “Having a community project opened as we came out of Covid sounded like a good idea. But organisations very quickly started stepping back, the reasons were many. None of us understood it, and there was a real unease from people.

“They were claiming to be welfare officers, they were messing up people’s benefits. They didn’t have a clue. Others had to resolve and recover people’s claims. There was a lot of deprivation and families were trying to apply for help, but Billy and his team unprofessionally went in to help and what they did was make things worse.

“When they closed their doors nobody spoke about them again, but there were rumours about what they had done. I’m not sure if anyone believed there was criminality, I think for most of us. He made outlandish claims - everything he said was nonsense. We just feel, collectively, that it was more delusional behaviour than criminal.

“When I saw his name with the Willy Wonka thing, it was a total shock. We thought he’d gone, and that was it. I feel like someone needs to manage Billy’s behaviour. It’s dangerous, but whether it’s intentional I don’t know. 

“It won’t happen in this area again, we’re all wise to Billy. I want Pollok to be seen in a positive light. The whole area shouldn’t be tainted because of one person. It’s a lot of work done by a lot of people and we don’t want it all unravelled, and have to start again. Nobody here is laughing, it’s not funny any more. We need to be careful people don’t think we’re all just like Billy.”

TFN attempted to contact Mr Coull, who did not respond to requests for comment.

However, a statement published on the House of Illuminati Facebook page addressed the relationship between Mr Coull and the Gowanbank Community Hub.

He wrote: "In realtion (sic) to the Gowanbank Hub: this was a non profit organisation that was set (up) during Covid to provide help and support to people in need of help. Which I was responsible for. The named directors roles were focused on supporting our community and ensuring the continuation of the hub's activities, without any direct involvement in the event’s organization (sic) or financial decisions."


 

Comments

0 0
Lok Yue
about 1 month ago

Well done Niall

0 0
Ruchir
about 1 month ago

I’d love to see a biopic of this guy’s escapades.