Two Northland friendship groups, have ended a bitter argument over money and assets in the Disputes Tribunal.
The not-so-friendly disagreement between The Friendship Force of Northland and Friends at Largehas left both groups licking their wounds, but resolute to continue as separate organisations.
The two divided groups were once one, Friendship Force Whangarei – part of an international organisation whose slogan is: “A world of friends is a world of peace”.
The Whangarei club began in 1985 and successfully ran for decades, hosting international Friendship Force members and being balloted overseas.
But Covid restrictions from 2020 put a stop to the international exchanges and Friendship Force International hiked its membership fees to stay afloat, said Friends at Large member Gay McCullough.
With members being mostly pensioners, many were unable to afford the increase in fees, she said.
At Friendship Force Whangarei’s November 2021 AGM, the majority of members voted to go into recess for a year.
They decided to form a social and travel group, Friends at Large, and later agreed to step away from Friendship Force International in entirety.
But not everyone wanted to split from the international organisation – which is established in 60 countries – so Gwendolyn Needham formed a new affiliated club, The Friendship Force of Northland.
“We have successfully continued with the welcome and hospitality and travel of Friendship Force,” Needham said.
A number of people are members of both clubs.
But the dispute arose over what to do with the now-defunct Whangarei club’s assets, including about $3000 in cash savings, catering equipment, tablecloths, a projector and a sound system.
Needham said the assets belonged to Friendship Force and should have stayed with the affiliated organisation.
Those who did not want to be part of Friendship Force should’ve simply resigned, rather than creating a break-away club, she said.
But McCullough, who is a chartered accountant, said unincorporated organisations should divide assets evenly between members, so Friends at Large should have had a larger piece of the pie, due to it having more members.
“This was duly conveyed and she [Needham] said ‘I will be taking legal direction.’ Can you imagine the stress and worry that it caused some of our committee members,” McCullough said.
Both sides say the other refused to negotiate.
But in a Disputes Tribunal hearing in Whangarei on Tuesday, the groups eventually agreed to divide the assets evenly and go their separate ways.
Both have been left disappointed the bonds of friendship could not stop the dispute going so far.
“We are an organisation set up with the aim of breaking down barriers and creating peace,” Needham said.
The Northland club now has Whangarei mayor Vince Cocurullo as patron, and will continue to host guests from the international organisation.
”Friendship force is quite special and unique. It’s not a travel club, it’s about faces not places,” she said.
Friends at Large is also continuing with international travel – including a trip to Kuala Lumpur on Sunday –plus monthly outings.
McCullough said she and other committee members were pleased the “drama, heartache and worry” were over.