Several branches of the Royal British Legion’s women’s section have dissolved their organisations in protest as the charity continues to face opposition to its plan to integrate the section into the main charity from October.
In Suffolk, 16 of the county’s 19 female branches have closed down, while 15 of the 27 in Norfolk have done the same after the RBL chose to press ahead with the plan, which was agreed by the trustee board in December.
This is despite strong opposition to the proposals at the charity’s women’s section annual conference in April and a vote at a subsequent members’ conference instructing the legion’s trustees to review their plans.
Branches are also understood to be closing in Kent, Essex, Devon and Cornwall and some volunteers have vowed to stop fundraising for the charity. A petition, launched in January, calling for the RBL to reverse the decision, has attracted 1,890 signatures.
Opponents to the changes are annoyed that the RBL head office in London did not consult with branch members about the change before announcing it in December and fear that the women-only branches could lose their identity if forced to merge with the parent charity. They also do not wish to be dictated to by the RBL and worry that they will not get a say as to how the money they raise is spent.
Carole Murphy, the branch secretary for the Nottinghamshire women’s section, told Third Sector in February that many members had fundraised for their local branches for years and resented the RBL taking over. She said that some were planning to shut down their branches so the RBL would not be able to run them.
Sandra Saban, the eastern area representative on the RBL women's section central committee, which governs the women-only branches, told the Daily Mail today that when the decision was made in December there were 32,000 members of the women's section but by April that was down to 29,500 and two months later it was 24,000.
A spokeswoman for the legion said the numbers were speculative and that the charity would not be able to tell until the end of September whether the number of women's section members or branches had declined.
Hazel Kingswood, acting chairman of the Norfolk Women's Section, also told the newspaper: "We do not know what the legion are going to do with the money we have raised and that is not fair.
"We have tried our best to sort this unholy mess out and we have done over 90 years of volunteering but now we will bow out with our heads held high."
But her comments were criticised by Marilyn Humphry, national chairman of the women’s section, who said they were neither helpful nor in the interests of branches that wished to continue with their fundraising activities in support of the women's section schemes.
Humphry, who is currently negotiating with the RBL to try to resolve the issues that have caused concern, said in a statement: "I am unsure where misinformation from our acting Norfolk county chairman is originating. No changes have been agreed as the plan is still under discussion.
"We are in a position where the trustees are listening to our concerns and I would not wish to see this jeopardised in any way."
The legion's spokeswoman also said: "As set out in proposals earlier this year, it remains vitally important to integrate The RBL's women’s section into the main body of the organisation to comply with charity regulation and governance arrangements.
"A joint team representing the legion and the women’s section has been formed to develop a plan for integration. The aim will be to complete the integration of the women’s section by 1 October 2017."