Editorial: lessons from Heyday

The demise of Age Concern England's membership organisation was like a Greek tragedy, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector
Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector

There has been no shortage recently of comment on Heyday, the now defunct membership organisation set up by Age Concern England to help people in their approach to retirement.

The Charity Commission was highly critical, as were influential figures in the Age Concern Federation. Now Sir Christopher Kelly, chair of the NSPCC and the man whose next job is sorting out MPs' expenses, has delivered the final blow in his report on the affair. It was a case study, he concluded last week, of how to make sure a project does not succeed.

The main architect of Heyday has now retired, and Age Concern England is no more: the merger with Help the Aged is well under way, and an opportunity beckons for a new start on all fronts.

Good governance  is the priority. What matters now is that other charities should learn from this episode of blinkered and stubborn ambition when embarking on major projects of their own. Kelly warns them not to make the same mistakes - not to let their hearts rule their heads, to take note of the evidence instead of fudging it, to keep an eye on the big picture and to listen to opposing points of view.

Observing Heyday was like an evening of Greek tragedy, with hubris inexorably drawing in nemesis. The emotions of the spectators were a mixture of horror and pity - horror at the protagonists' persistence in self-destructive behaviour, and pity not least for their retainers, condemned to repeat that the bus was roadworthy while they knew in their hearts that the wheels were coming off. As we shuffle out, we thank the gods that it wasn't us, and hope to avert a similar fate in our own affairs.

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