Membership of the women’s section of the Royal British Legion has fallen by half over the past year because 16,000 women quit the organisation in protest at a decision to integrate the section into the main charity, it has been reported.
According to the Daily Mail newspaper, the RBL women’s section will have about 16,000 members left once the legion has completed the integration, which the parent charity says it plans to do by 1 October in order to comply with charity regulations.
This time last year the women’s section comprised 32,000 members, but the Daily Mail reported that it emerged at a meeting of the women’s central committee earlier this month that numbers had fallen to 20,971.
It predicted that the numbers would fall further in the coming months because of branch closures.
Opponents of the changes are annoyed that the RBL head office in London did not consult branch members about the change before announcing it in December 2015 and fear that the women-only branches could lose their identity.
It emerged in August that members of the women’s section in Suffolk, Norfolk, Kent, Essex, Devon and Cornwall had dissolved their branches and some volunteers had vowed to stop fundraising for the charity.
Despite this opposition, which included a petition calling for the main charity to reverse its decision, the RBL’s board of trustees approved a plan for the "modernisation" of the women’s section at a meeting held in October, according to a letter posted to the women’s section Facebook group.
The letter, signed by Terry Whittles, national chairman of the RBL, says: "We are happy that, having listened to concerns from all aspects of membership, the legion has achieved an amicable solution that will enable both parties to move forwards as one while retaining the unique identity of the women’s section."
But Sandra Saban, eastern area representative of the women’s section, told the Mail that the situation had been handled in the wrong way, with insufficient communication with section members. "We’ve lost half our members and I don’t think we can recover," she said.
Rita Orange, a member of the Heston women’s section branch in west London, told the Mail that RBL management had acted in a "dictatorial" fashion and her branch was likely to close next year.
A spokeswoman for the RBL said a joint team representing the legion and the women’s section would work together to identify potential issues brought about by the change.
The polling company YouGov revealed in September that the public’s perception of the RBL fell to its lowest level for four years in the wake of this summer’s media coverage of the dispute.