Disability sports charity backed by record-breaking Olympian closes amid Charity Commission investigation

SportsAble, which listed Sir Steve Redgrave as a patron, had its accounts qualified by auditors in 2019 and had been the subject of a regulatory compliance case

A disability sports charity that had the five-time gold medal-winning Olympian Sir Steve Redgrave as a patron has closed, citing difficulties including an investigation by the regulator.

SportsAble, based in Maidenhead, Berkshire, announced its decision to close after 46 years in a statement on its website earlier this week.

According to its latest accounts, for the year to 31 December 2019, the charity’s income declined more than 30 per cent last year to nearly £230,000, and expenditure totalled £320,000.

The charity described a difficult fundraising year, while the previous year’s finances were not encouraging for potential investors.

Its reserves were also depleted by capital investment in its unsuccessful Zeus Project, which was aimed at redeveloping and extending the charity’s clubhouse.

In a worst-case scenario, the charity said the £450,000 clubhouse could be sold to help cover the cost of winding up.

The trustees’ report outlines serious issues including written allegations about the way the charity operated, property theft, and data breaches.

The independent auditor qualified the charity's accounts, saying it was unable to obtain sufficient evidence on incoming resources and expenditure due to a lack of supporting documentation.

It was also unable to find sufficient evidence on payroll costs due to employee contracts not being available for all employees sampled, and could not verify the existence of those employees sampled.

Spending on wages and salaries for its eight employees in 2019 was reported as £127,000.

In a statement, John Jenkins, president of SportsAble, said: “It is well-known locally that the charity has been struggling with numerous problems over the last 12 months, including the investigation by the Charity Commission.”

Jenkins said that while government grants during the pandemic had kept the charity alive in 2020, it did not prevent staff redundancies, and the pandemic had left it unable to fulfill its charitable activities.

“The fundraising environment has changed significantly over the last few years and it is clear that donors are increasingly unwilling to pay for the costs associated with running the SportsAble clubhouse, which means that the charity’s biggest asset has become its biggest burden,” said Jenkins.

A spokesperson for the Charity Commision said it was aware of the trustees’ decision to close SportsAble and highlighted the significant impact this would have on the charity’s service users.

“We opened a regulatory compliance case into the charity in November 2019 to address concerns around its governance and management. We engaged with the trustees, who took steps to address our concerns.

“We hoped this would enable the charity to survive into the future, but we note the impact the pandemic has had on the charity.”

The regulator said it would monitor the charity as it took steps to wind up.

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