A CHARITY that received royal approval following a major £400,000 expansion is being forced to shut – just eight months later.
Browning House in Chapeltown, Leeds, has been working with vulnerable families in the city for more than 60 years.
It looked to be going from strength to strength when the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, officially opened a new facility – the Jubilee building – in April.
But a dramatic decline in demand for the charity’s services has forced it to announce that it will wind up early next month.
Acting chief executive Clare Roberts said: “We’re desperately sad. Browning House has been working with vulnerable families for a long time and here we are at the end of it. It feels terrible.”
The charity was founded in 1950, when the house was a refuge for unmarried mothers facing stigma within the wider community. It was officially opened by the then Princess Royal, Princess Mary, a year later.
In ensuing years it became a residential assessment centre where parents were monitored to determine if they were fit to keep their children.
But demand has plummeted since April this year, largely because local authorities, which referred families to Browning House, have increasingly kept such assessments in-house.
Ms Roberts said she had concerns the closure, which will lead to the loss of about 50 jobs, would leave a gap in services. She said: “If that gap isn’t being met, my concern is that children aren’t getting a fair assessment.”
Claire Burns, a solicitor who has represented families who have been assessed at Browning House, said: “I’m absolutely devastated to see them go. They have been established within our community for such a long time. The staff are fantastic and to lose them is a real blow.”
Leeds City Council said it was carrying out assessments in a different way. Steve Walker, deputy director for children’s services, said: “We have not stopped using Browning House for financial reasons.
“Over the past few years Leeds children’s services has undergone a major restructure which has included significant investment in recruiting a number of highly skilled advanced social work practitioners and the establishment of Early Start Centres which are able to assess the needs of vulnerable children and families.
“Therefore, we have no concerns that children and families will not be able to be assessed appropriately.”