President of the National Childbirth Trust resigns

Seána Talbot cites the handling of previous bullying allegations and issues with the charity's direction and financial performance in her resignation letter

Seána Talbot
Seána Talbot

Seána Talbot, president of the National Childbirth Trust, has resigned, saying the charity was being taken in a direction she could not support.

In her resignation letter, presented to the NCT on Friday, Talbot said she believed the charity’s leadership had made "damaging and harmful decisions" and warned that a drop in the charity’s income had been "disastrous".

Talbot had been president of the charity since 2017 and had served on the board since 2009. She was elected president when she said she was pressured into resigning as a trustee in 2016 after a baby died in a co-branded NCT Bednest cot, despite the inquest finding the charity was not to blame.

The current chief executive of the Charity Commission, Helen Stephenson, was chair of the charity at the time.

Third Sector understands that Talbot’s resignation comes after 38 practitioners at the charity wrote to the charity to express a range of concerns at the direction the charity was heading in terms of its strategy, its approach to social media and its financial situation.

Over the past five years for which accounts are available, the charity’s annual income has fallen by 12.9 per cent, from £17.6m to £15.6m.

In her resignation letter, Talbot wrote: "I have now concluded that those who are responsible for NCT’s direction and strategy are determined to lead the charity in a direction I cannot support.

"The current leadership has presided over a series of damaging and harmful decisions, as well as a disastrous decrease in income."

She said that the executive team and board had taken the charity away from its core mission to support birth and breastfeeding, and towards a focus on generic "parent support", with an emphasis on postnatal mental health.

Talbot said she understood the importance of the issues, but the shift in focus meant the NCT was "no longer the ‘go-to’ charity" for issues relating to breastfeeding and maternity services.

"Others have taken our place or, worse still, there is silence where women’s voices should be," she said.

Talbot added that there was "a profound lack of trust" between many volunteers and practitioners and the charity’s executive team, and there was a "culture of fear" within the charity.

Her letter described how on one occasion last year she left a board meeting early "in great distress".

Her complaint about the "bullying and coercion" she experienced at the time of the Bednest cot inquest had never been investigated, she said, and a wider review by senior staff after the controversy had been wrong to conclude there was no bullying in the charity.

"NCT’s hierarchy is severely imbalanced right now, with an extremely powerful chief executive, a weak board and a grassroots movement which has been disempowered and is simply being ignored," she said.

Talbot said most current trustees had only a superficial understanding of the NCT and needed to be more prepared to overturn executive decisions.

Her resignation was not designed to hurt the charity, she said, but to "issue a wake-up call and a challenge to those of you who think everything is well. It isn’t."

In a statement, Jessica Figueras, chair of the NCT, said the charity had responded to Talbot’s bullying allegation by appointing a mediator and had developed a more comprehensive organisation-wide anti-bullying and harassment policy after the wider review.

"We do not agree with Seána’s assessment of where the NCT is right now," she said.

"With regard to finances, over the past three years we have made significant progress on financial management and planning.

"Like many charities, we do face pressure on our income and continue to work hard to invest in our ambition of reaching all parents across the first 1,000 days."

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