Opinion: It's difficult to learn to let go

Peter Stanford

The problems experienced by one of my favourite London haunts, the Design Museum, have been well aired in recent weeks.

Founder Terence Conran and trustee James Dyson have resigned from the board. They seem to believe that director Alice Rawsthorn has undermined their vision of what the museum should be. Those in Rawsthorn's corner (she has sensibly refused to comment publicly) say that visitor numbers are up, education work is booming and that the exhibitions that have been damned as "too fluffy" are only a tiny part of a broader picture that still covers all the bases.

This is a classic case of an affliction that many in our sector will be able to diagnose - Founder Member Syndrome or FMS. The key symptom is the originator of an idea/scheme/project/charity/ museum finding it hard to relinquish the reins to a successor and so undermining new growth.

There is, sadly, no cure. Time may let the flare-up subside, but the scars are often lifelong.

I got very badly caught up in a bout of bloodletting once, prompted by a dose of FMS. It fractured friendships and made me want to break all links with the charity. I was in the new guard, but it takes a wise founder to allow their baby to be carted off in the arms of another. Indeed, often the very success of the venture depends initially on the founder's complete passion for the infant. That is not easily switched off.

Recently, I was at the centre of setting up a new charity. I think it is marvellously planned and executed, of course. And then, last week, a young whipper-snapper came in, told me he had plenty of time to spare at the moment and would like to address some of the areas where the trust is failing currently - failing! I bristled, but, because of what has happened to me in the past, managed to arrange a smile on my face. I listened and just about conceded he had a point. I'm not about to pack up my bags, but perhaps, like parents, we should all be aware that one day we will simply have to let go and prepare to do it with good grace.

- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.

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