Kids Company workers protest on Downing Street after sudden closure

Charity founder Camila Batmanghelidjh joined angry supporters in London march

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The Independent Online

The founder of the Kids Company charity joined hundreds of angry supporters as they descended on Downing Street yesterday in protest against the charity’s sudden closure.

Emotional protesters chanted “Save Kids Company, save that child” and carried banners as they marched from the charity’s offices in Camberwell, south London, to Whitehall.

Meeting up with Camila Batmanghelidjh, they gave her a hero’s welcome as supporters lined up to hug and speak to her, shouting: “We love you Camilla, we love you.”

The 52-year-old has been criticised for her running of the charity, which has been caught in a row over the use of donations from the public and the government for its work in helping deprived youngsters and their families.

She has denied allegations that have arisen recently of financial mismanagement and has insisted the charity was not made aware of any allegations of child sexual abuse, but the organisation closed this week due to funding problems.

Yet one backer, Oluwatosin Jenmi, whose daughter has been helped by the charity, said at the protest: “Camilla is amazing. The workers are amazing. If there are any allegations, why now? They have been going for 19 years. Why are they doing this to us? My heart breaks. I have been crying and crying. With Kids Company you are assured you are safe. It is our children’s second home.”

Olawakemi Afolabi, who has two children and has needed support while staying in hospital suffering from anxiety recently, agreed. “Kids Company is helping me and my children,” she told the Huffington Post website. “We rely on the vouchers they give to us to feed ourselves. They have helped me after I came out of hospital. They made life easy for me. Now I don’t know where we are heading to. I don’t think I have any hope again. I want them to re-open, to get a second chance. There’s no other charity like this.”

Protester Tom Ngoye said: “The company got shut down within two weeks. We’re worried about the young people we worked with, we had no chance to say goodbye to them.”

Kids Company, which supports vulnerable inner-city children across London, Bristol and Liverpool, claims it has helped 36,000 people, a figure that has been questioned. The charity’s own annual report for 2013 states that it spent £15m on salary costs that year but only documented 750 children who it helped.

However, a group of lawyers said the closure of Kids Company will mean thousands of children will be denied access to justice. They wrote in a letter to The Guardian: “Over many years, Kids Company has brought hundreds of extremely vulnerable children to our offices and the courts to fight for their basic rights.

“These are the children who local authorities appear unable or unwilling to support and who it is now said will provide the support now that Kids Company is closed. This is pure fantasy.”

Karl Wilding, from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, told the BBC they were coming together to try to “provide cover” for Kids Company.

Barnardo’s CEO Javed Khan said: “Barnardo’s attended the meeting with the Cabinet Office today to find out how we could help… We will do all we can to support vulnerable children that have been affected by the closure. We are already looking at our existing services in the affected areas to see how we can help in these communities and hope funding can be found to make it happen.” 

Action for Children said it was “too early” to say if it could take up any of Kids Company’s services.