Troubled Royal Institution receives £4.4m donation from unnamed foundation

But Sir Richard Sykes, chair of the institution, tells members that its financial troubles are far from over

Royal Institution
Royal Institution

The Royal Institution has received a donation of £4.4m from an unnamed foundation that will allow the educational charity to stay in its historic Mayfair home.

Sir Richard Sykes, chair of the institution, said that although the windfall, from a foundation that wishes to remain anonymous, would clear the institution’s bank debt, its financial troubles were far from over.

The charity, founded in 1799, feared it would have to sell its headquarters at 21 Albemarle Street, London, valued at £45m in May 2011, because of financial problems.

Speaking at a special general meeting for institution members last night, Sykes said that a future direction committee had been set up to develop a "new vision" that would allow it to stay in the building.

This will be led by Professor Lord Robert Winston and includes Professor Brian Cox, the particle physicist, and Kim Shillinglaw, the BBC’s commissioning editor for science and natural history.

The committee will come up with a plan to secure the institution’s financial future that is likely to include more partnership working with other organisations. A spokeswoman for the institution said a fundraising appeal would be launched but its target was not yet decided.

The institution still faces major challenges because it must pay back a second loan of £2m in 2015 and is losing up to a £1m a year in running costs.

"This donation is very timely and will clear the institution’s bank debt, as well as giving us the breathing room to explore other options more fully," said Sykes. "However, our financial issues are far from being resolved.

"It sounds like the membership is supportive of the steps we have taken so far. We now need to unite behind a common vision that will garner the financial support necessary to secure our long-term future on Albemarle Street."

The institution’s financial problems date back to 2006, when the charity embarked on a £22m redevelopment of its building. The project, designed to attract more visitors, overran by five months and left the charity facing a funding shortfall after it failed to meet fundraising targets.

In January, 22 scientists, including Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins, wrote a letter to The Times newspaper to praise the institution’s work and urge "those who have power and influence to save the Royal Institution for the nation".

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