Regulator opens case into Girlguiding centre closures amid MPs' concerns

The Charity Commission is to look into Girlguiding's decision to sell off five of its activity centres and close its overseas operations amid criticisms from MPs about the moves.

The decision to close its centres was taken by the charity earlier this year due to falling number of its members using them and to save money on an estimated £20m of investment needed over the coming years to keep them open.

It also decided to close its British Girlguiding Overseas operation earlier this month.

The Charity Commission has confirmed it has opened a compliance case into the closures.

"Strategic decisions like this are for trustees to make, but we have a role in ensuring that trustees have complied with their legal duties and responsibilities in the way they made decisions," said a spokesperson for the regulator.

"We are therefore engaging with trustees on the concerns raised with us, to ensure that they understand what the law, and our guidance, expect of them.”

The move by the Commission follows a parliamentary debate this week when MPs, including charities minister Stuart Andrew, raised concerns over the charity's decision making and whether there has been adequate consultation.

“This decision to close down every single one of the five Girlguiding activity centres across the United Kingdom is so bizarre,” said Culture, Media and Sport committee chair Caroline Dinenage.

“Girlguiding is closing down opportunities for young women and girls who would otherwise struggle to afford them."

Andrew said he shared MPs’ “disappointment” around the activity centre sell off and the end to the charity’s overseas operations. He added that Girlguiding “is an independent organisation and its board of trustees have a fiscal responsibility to take decisions in the organistion’s best interests in order to secure its future and the safety of its members”.

But he raised concerns around “the lack of consultation” around the closures “which would enable people to make their views known”.

Earlier this month a crowdfunding campaign was launched to keep open one of the five centres that is set to close, the Foxlease centre in Lyndhurst, Hampshire, which campaign group Foxie’s Future are looking to buy. This has so far raised almost £25,000 of the £90,000 target. The Foxlease activity centre site had been donated to the charity in 1922.

The other four centres to close are Girlguiding’s Blackland Farn, Glenbrook, Waddow Hall and Ynysgain sites. Bookings are still being taken at all five sites until the end of the year.

Citing Girlguiding evidence that found only one in ten of its members use the centres, Conservative MP for New Forerst East Julian Lewis said: “We are still talking about tens of thousands of young people."

He added: “The reason for donating Foxlease to Girlguiding 101 years ago was not so that it could be used for commercial development; it was donated to be used by young people.”

Girlguiding’s response

Responding to MPs’ concerns, Girlguiding said: “Like many charities, Girlguiding has had to make difficult decisions in challenging times with limited resources, but it is always important to be focused on our core mission, vision and purpose.”

It added: “Our board of trustees recently made two strategic decisions regarding the future of British Girlguiding Overseas (BGO), and the charity’s five UK-owned activity centres.

“We understand that the announcements regarding the closure of British Girlguiding Overseas and our activity centres are sad and difficult news for our members, and we thank everyone involved in British Guiding Overseas and with the activity centres.

“The operating environment has changed substantially in recent years and both these areas of work are no longer viable owing to the financial and operational risks.

“We do not receive any core recurring revenue funding from government. We rely on member subscriptions, grants, a small amount of investment income and fundraising.”

Earlier this year campaigners had asked Girlguiding to consider selling its central London headquarters instead to keep the five activity centres open.

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