Platform 51 plans to drop its name and transfer most services to The Cyrenians

Documents seen by Third Sector show that the charity, which changed its name only three years ago and is losing money, believes its size and structure are unsustainable

Platform 51, the women’s charity formerly known as YWCA England & Wales, is planning to drop its new name after less than three years and transfer most of its services to The Cyrenians as part of a major restructure.

Internal documents seen by Third Sector show that a review of Platform 51, which has been losing millions in recent years, has concluded that the current size and structure of the charity are unsustainable.

The charity intends to stop providing face-to-face services to beneficiaries, reduce the size of the organisation and transfer all functions to one office in London.

The charity, which was founded in 1855 and provides support for girls and women through courses, group activities and counselling, and campaigns on their behalf, adopted the name Platform 51 in December 2010 because, it said, its old name "no longer stood for anything" and led to it being confused with YMCA England. The name, which refers to the fact that 51 per cent of people are female, was criticised at the time for being confusing.

The charity is planning to change its name again and is expected to have a new title in September. It will retain YWCA England & Wales as its legal name, the documents say.

Accounts for 2011/12, filed with the Charity Commission, show Platform 51 had an income of £4.8m but spent £7.2m. In 2010/11 the charity spent £6.8m but had an income of £4.8m; and in 2009/10 the charity spent nearly £7.1m and had an income of £4.8m. The bulk of the charity's income is in the form of restricted funds for the services it provides.

In 2011/12 the charity had reserves of £1.5m, compared with £3m in 2009/10.

The documents, which are about the future of Platform 51 and were prepared by Deborah Mattinson, its chair, and Carole Easton, its chief executive, say that the charity will no longer deliver face-to-face services. It will instead have a small, London-based team to run its campaigning and influencing work and test new models of service delivery, including an online service and a helpline.

The papers say that Platform 51 intends to transfer its centres in Doncaster, Knowsley, Wales, Wolverhampton, west London, Middlesbrough and Nottingham to the homelessness charity The Cyrenians.

If it is not possible to transfer the centres, which provide courses, group activities and counselling, to The Cyrenians, then the services provided at the centre would be wound down and staff would be at risk of redundancy, the documents say.

Two further centres in west Kent and Bristol and the charity’s current head office in Oxford are due to be closed, the papers show. Staff working for these three centres are at risk of redundancy and subject to a formal redundancy consultation.

According to the Charity Commission’s website, the charity employs 117 staff. Nobody from Platform 51 would confirm if this was an up-to-date figure.

The charity last year decided to close three of its contact centres and make an unspecified number of staff redundant, according to its 2011/12 annual accounts.

Easton said she was unable to comment.

A spokeswoman for The Cyrenians said she could neither confirm nor deny the charity’s involvement in the transfer of Platform 51 centres.

Peter Gotham, charity partner at the accountancy firm MHA MacIntyre Hudson, said that the charity’s 2011/12 accounts suggested it had been going through a "difficult period", with deficits on the unrestricted funds running at between £1.3m and £2m for several years.

Gotham said that, at first sight, he thought the charity’s unrestricted reserves "would only cover just over a year of further shortfalls at the recent levels, at least without selling properties, or unless part of the ‘expendable endowment’ – of about £13.6m – can be used".

But he said it was unclear whether the expendable endowment could be used to support the charity.

Gotham said the charity also faced making additional pension contributions of £215,000 annually for 10 years. "This is unfortunately becoming an increasingly common problem for charities," he said.

"The charity seems to be struggling to achieve financial stability, and has been taking difficult decisions over the last few years to work towards that position."

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