Editorial: Let's have a proper explanation of Heyday

When Heyday was launched by Age Concern last year, the declared aim was to recruit 250,000 members to an organisation designed to help people plan for and make good use of their retirement - health advice, discussion forums, insurance deals, wine clubs, wriites Third Sector editor, Stephen Cook.

Despite the corny name and slogan – 'It's You Time' – it seemed like a good idea.

But less than a year on, Heyday has been an expensive and controversial failure. It has sold fewer than 14,000 £20 memberships and has been forced to rethink its business plan completely. Three senior people have resigned in protest at the way it was run, and 33 Heyday employees face redundancy.

Perhaps most worryingly, £5m from the Age Concern trust fund has been sunk into this ill-fated enterprise.

Why did it all go wrong? It is not easy to get the full picture, because those who resigned are unwilling to talk or have been silenced by confidentiality agreements. The chair of trustees has declined to be interviewed and the charity will not answer detailed financial questions - wait for the annual report, it says. Some Age Concern insiders are torn between a sense of outrage and their reluctance to damage the charity by speaking out, which is understandable.

What is clear, however, is that the initial proposal to run Heyday as part of Age Concern Enterprises, the charity's successful commercial arm, was set aside by the trustees in favour of running it as part of the charity itself. This decision has not been fully explained and appears to have been a major cause of the resignations.

Questions have also been raised about Heyday's recruitment methods and whether the advertising and website provided the best value for money. Charities should be prepared these days to take risks on good ideas.

But risks must be managed sensibly, and at the moment the supporters and stakeholders of Age Concern have no way of knowing if that was the case with Heyday. All the charity will say is that there will be a "thorough evaluation" of what happened.

There is surely a good case for the trustees to complete and publish that evaluation as soon as possible, saying where the responsibility lay and what action has been taken to dispel the cloud that now hangs over one of the country's best-known charities. Episodes such as this need a proper reckoning and a fair outcome, and at the moment these seem some way off.

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