RNIB to close 'inadequate' children's home with loss of 180 jobs

The RNIB Pears Centre for Specialist Learning will close on 7 November after being the subject of a Charity Commission inquiry into safeguarding

The RNIB Pears Centre
The RNIB Pears Centre

The sight-loss charity the RNIB will this year close a children’s home that prompted a Charity Commission inquiry into the safeguarding of vulnerable beneficiaries and led to the departure of its former chief executive.

The centre, which was also being monitored by the education regulator Ofsted, is to close on 7 November with the loss of 180 jobs, the charity said today.

The Charity Commission opened a statutory class inquiry into the RNIB and its subsidiary, RNIB Charity, in April 2018 amid concerns about the safeguarding of vulnerable beneficiaries at the RNIB Pears Centre for Specialist Learning, which is near Coventry.

In March, the charity reported to the commission several serious incidents that had taken place over the previous year at the centre.

The announcement of the Charity Commission’s inquiry led to the resignation of Sally Harvey, the chief executive of the RNIB at the time, after approximately six months permanently in the role.

The RNIB was also threatened with having its registration to run the centre cancelled by Ofsted after it was the subject of a number of poor monitoring reports.

Ofsted decided in May not to cancel the charity’s registration for running the centre, but it is understood that Ofsted inspected the centre in July and rated it as inadequate, the lowest rating.

The charity said today that it had decided it was not the right organisation to run the centre but had been unable to find an alternative provider in the time available so it would therefore close.

Eleanor Southwood, chair of the RNIB, said: "The children and young people at the centre are our number one priority. They deserve the very best care and support.

"We’ve worked hard to put things right, but we accept that we’re not the right organisation to be running this highly specialised service for children and young people with complex health needs."

The children at the centre would have new homes found for them, the charity said, and the RNIB had set up a dedicated team to ensure the transition process ran smoothly.

The centre has been subsidised by the charity in each of the past three years, costing it approximately £750,000 a year.

Despite this, the charity denied that financial reasons had driven the closure and said the decision "has been made for the best interests of the children and young people in the long term".

Southwood said: "I’m saddened to share this news, yet I am confident this is the right decision, for the children, for the RNIB and for the wider community we are here to support.

"As we reflect on 150 years of the RNIB, we have to look to the future. We must focus on the things we do best in order to support blind and partially sighted people for many years to come."

The closure of the centre comes after a difficult few years for the RNIB, with 230 roles lost in the year to the end of March 2018 and further job losses mooted, as Third Sector revealed in May.

The charity, which reported a £12.6m deficit in the year ending 31 March 2017, said at the time it expected to report a small surplus in 2017/18.

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