The closure of Kids Company following the withdrawal of a £3million government bailout has shone a spotlight on young people’s charities like never before.
Debate has raged over the governance of the once-lauded London charity and the failings of its leadership, embodied by the larger-than-life Camila Batmanghelidjh.
And as the Cabinet Office scrambles to find alternative provision for the young people served by the now defunct organisation, the discussion both inside and outside the sector turns to what happens next.
MM approached Manchester based youth charities to find out what effect, if any, the affair would have on children’s charities in the region.
While some were reluctant to talk, fearing association with a negative news story, others were more forthcoming.
Kate Macdonald is Chief Executive of Young People’s Support Foundation, offering practical support and advice to young Mancunians at risk of homelessness.
“I feel like they [Kids Company] became treated as almost a pet project of various high profile people,” she said.
“And that the normal processes and due diligence… they were almost seen as being outside the need for that because it was all so fantastic.”
Among the concerns raised by Kids Company’s critics was the practice of money being handed out to young people, amid chaotic scenes.
“The idea of handing over cash to a young person goes against everything I’ve ever come across in other organisations,” said Ms Macdonald.
“I don’t think there’s any suggestion there was feathering nests of staff members going on but some of the professional practices and boundaries I think were unusual.”
This was a symptom, she believes, of a larger malaise in which organisational failings were obscured by the glare of a trailblazing chief executive with friends in high places.
She told MM: “On the one hand, when times were good that could all be seen as commendable, that there’s somebody so dedicated, passionate and committed, bringing much needed support to young people in deprived communities.
“But that said I’m very familiar with a concept called ‘Founder’s Syndrome’ where a passionate, talented, inspirational individual has a great idea and starts it off – there’s nothing not to like about that – but there’s a down side to everything and people like that very often aren’t as good on the process and business side of things.
“Whilst that’s all very well when you’re running a really small outfit, where you can be on top of everything, as things grow you need the boring business processes and in the charity world that’s why you’ve got trustees and governance.”
The culpability thus should rest not just with Batmanghelidjh but with her trustees, including chairman Alan Yentob, better known as Creative Director of the BBC.
Ms Macdonald finds the trustees’ silence is puzzling, saying: “Where were they, what were they doing? Where was the other senior management in Kids Company?”
It is unclear as yet how the demise of Kids Company will affect young people’s charities in Manchester.
Ross Grant, Development Manager of Voluntary Youth Manchester is concerned that funders, policy makers and politicians will draw unfavourable parallels with less generously endowed organisations.
“[There are] very few comparable charities with the profile and level of funding received by Kids Company,” he said.
“Most Manchester young people’s charities are small to medium sized, and none in receipt of anything like that amount of funding.
“Sadly, the media rubbishing of Kids Company’s methods without any real understanding of the whys and wherefores may have long term effects on the willingness of others to do innovative and exciting things with these challenging young people. And funders may not risk funding such work anyway.”
Asked what they could do with £3million our respondents’ answers reveal a world far removed from that of Batmanghelidjh and her celebrity ecosphere.
Mr Grant said: “VYM & Manchester’s voluntary youth sector could probably re-establish a coordinated youth service for this city with that amount of money.”
While Ms Macdonald added: “We could wind the clock back, in a way, to the quality of service we were able to offer some years ago.
“We run a free drop-in breakfast at our sites but we can’t do that five days a week anymore.”
One youth worker at a south Manchester project simply said: “It would keep us going for ten years.”
Image courtesy of BBC, via YouTube, with thanks.