Editorial: The collapse of an iconic charity requires an explanation

A rescue is currently being discussed for BeatBullying: the full story should be told in due course so that lessons can be learned, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

For more than a decade, BeatBullying has been an iconic charity, breaking new ground in online responses to young people in distress, winning multiple awards and securing funding from many sources, including major foundations and the government. In recent years it added new services and projects, including one that addresses mental health, and became the BeatBullying Group.

But nearly three weeks ago, the group abruptly announced it had serious financial difficulties, applied to go into administration, closed its website and advised its beneficiaries to contact ChildLine or Samaritans instead. This came as a shock to many people, who are now asking where it all went wrong. Some funders are querying what happened to their money.

In the short term, we’re unlikely to find out much. The trustees have taken a vow of silence as they negotiate for other organisations to take over the viable parts of the charity. The main sound at this stage is the pain and anger expressed (anonymously) by staff who have in many cases lost pay and been left without jobs. They are understandably distressed by the way things were apparently handled in the final days. The potential white knights should take pains to ensure that they don’t acquire any deficient parts of the charity as well as the good ones – and some of its services, by skilled and dedicated staff, have by common consent been excellent.

All we know so far about the reasons for the crisis is that emails to staff, telling them they wouldn’t be paid, blamed the late payment of grants from funders. This raises the question of why such grants were not being paid. There must be at least the suspicion that something was going seriously wrong with the management of the charity or its governance – or both. Did it perhaps get carried away with its own success and overreach itself with the new ventures?

In the longer term, when the dust has settled, the charity or its new owners owe an explanation to those who have supported, funded and admired it over the years. People deserve to know what went wrong so they can learn from it. A good precedent for this came in 2009 when Age Concern England (now part of of Age UK) commissioned and published a no-holds-barred review of its disastrous Heyday venture, a lifestyle project and website for older people. It was painful and embarrassing, but also courageous and cathartic, and it offered the charity and the rest of the sector some important lessons about over-ambitious and ill-researched projects.

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