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  • Writer's picturebeccabland4

The Future of Stand Alone Charity & The Field Of Family Estrangement

Updated: Feb 23

The Trustees of Stand Alone announced yesterday that they would be closing the charity at the end of the Spring. As the founder of the organization, and the leader of the work for over a decade, it obviously brings me great sadness that the charity is closing. I know how much it means to people.

The very notion of a charitable entity around family estrangement allows adverse family experiences to be understood through the viewpoint of inequality and need. And there is a huge amount of need for our service users to feel validated, guided, supported and for their societal struggles to be recognized.

I was not part of the decision-making to close the charity, however I understand that funding is a huge challenge for UK charities at the moment. The UK is in recession and it is undoubted that the wider financial circumstances have an impact on the sustainability of small charities. I fundraised millions of pounds over my time at Stand Alone, but my area of fundraising strength was not what the charity needed in the climate we find ourselves in today.

We needed a strong fundraiser with better ideas than I had to bring in funds, and diversify in a way that I could not. Yet there were significant occurrences around the recruitment of the new CEO, my successor, that compounded those financial struggles. It was decided I would have no part in the recruitment process and would meet the appointed candidate. After a basic google search, I found information in the press around the tentatively appointed individual that was concerning and that had not been seen. For legal reasons, I can't disclose what happened next, but the stress of the situation and the chain of events that followed had a significant impact on my mental and physical health.

It led me to the view that the structure of charities doesn't create a safe working environment from a health and safety perspective. I believe that the duty of care and oversight that a board owes those leading the operational team isn't best implemented by volunteers who are time-stretched and who can resign at a moments notice. It's not fair on them and it wasn't safe for me. I've been a Trustee of another trust for many years and I understand just how hard it is when the responsibility transforms from oversight to crisis management. Charities create services for the most vulnerable people in UK society, and those vulnerable people are owed a much more stable organizational structure with more reliability and accountability.

Stand Alone is not a crisis service, but many charities are very much on the frontline. We must make sure that the people at the top of those organizations are held accountable in their duty of care, have an adequate notice period, and are paid for the time they may need to spend handling the complexities of governance. I will write more about this in the future as I do feel the system is incredibly broken and desperately needs more safeguards.

I feel one of the most central aspects of life is taking responsibility for ones own part in a situation. How did I contribute to this ending? For my part, I sit here and I own that I didn't get out of the way quickly enough when I realized we needed new ideas for funding. Had I left six months prior, then perhaps we would have had more resilience to withstand the recruitment issues. This was a decision I discussed with the board and my Chair, and was driven by my desire to finish policy work in Scotland. It is very hard to know when to go as a Founder, but I look back and I wish I had decided differently, and not through the lens of what policy work needed bringing over the line.

This is a central aspect of my own decision making that I must own. I really hope that it also acts as a lesson for any founder wishing to step back but who is hanging on for the change. It's not the most important thing.

I share the wish to celebrate the success of the organization. I do feel we have made significant cultural shifts in the conversation about family estrangement. I also feel we have really helped millions to feel less alone with our media, press and online guides, and tens of thousands to be more adequately supported in support groups or whilst at University. It's no small achievement. Twelve years is a long period of time to keep an organization alive, thriving and having a strong impact. With the sadness also comes a lot to be proud of and reflect positively around. .

Of course I would love to be sat here with the knowledge that Stand Alone will grow and thrive under a new leader. However, that isn't the reality. Yet I'm confident that Stand Alone's work will be carried forward by myself in my training and coaching, and also by many others who were part of the creation of our services and initiatives.

If I did anything in founding a charity, it was to plant seeds for 12 years. I planted these seeds with my words, my research, my appearances on TV, my insights and with my energy for change. I sincerely hope that these seeds grow and thrive even if not contained in a charitable entity. So much work has been done.

I will continue to host the website and research once the organization has been dissolved on 31st March, so that people may still access the online support guides and research that has been so helpful. This will be with the understanding that it isn't a charitable entity providing support services, nor one that has a team behind it. It will be there for information only. I am also in conversations about making a more global non-profit with the brand and assisting those who wish to carry the baton forward.

I want to thank all the people that built this incredible project with me. Particularly Dr Lucy Blake, who has so ardently created research with me. I want to thank Jenny Shaw, David Malcolm, and Lynne Condell who collaborated and inspired me to think we could define estranged students as policy group. I will remember those first meetings at SLC in Darlington and OFFA (as it was then called) with a lot of fondness. Also Tara, who was the first person I met in London after writing about family estrangement in The Guardian nearly 12 years ago. It's that feeling of relief that I felt after meeting Tara, and talking openly, that we scaled and gave to so many of you in our support groups.

And thanks for everyone that believed. You can't do great things and change society unless you believe a better future is possible. Believing and trying is really important.

This is my truth, my experience and these are my views. I stand strongly in my right to them.



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