The demise of Kids Company was one of the saddest and most shocking events of 2015 for those who have taken an interest in the charity and sought its help over the 20 years since it began.
A place for deprived and vulnerable inner-city children to seek safety, food, education and lots more, the London organisation acted as a parallel social services to thousands of young people, with founder Camila Batmanghelidjh as its driving force.
She had the support of David Cameron, and plenty more friends and supporters in high places, but last year Batmanghelidjh and her team found themselves at the centre of a media storm, faced with allegations of mismanagement and misspent government money. And then, amazingly, the charity closed.
So how on earth did it all go so very wrong? BBC1’s documentary, Camila’s Kids Company: the Inside Story, is a fascinating look at the charity’s downfall, with filmmaker Lynn Alleway gaining brilliant access to Batmanghelidjh. She first filmed the founder ten years ago and has now returned to see how dramatically things have changed.
What emerges from the film is that Batmanghelidjh, who laughs and cries at different points during the film, is absolutely committed to the charity — there is no doubt about how desperate she is to improve children’s lives, and she comes across as a force of nature who cares deeply about social justice.
But after that, things get a bit tricky.
“Realism never got anyone anywhere,” Batmanghelidjh chuckles to Alleway, a hint of steel behind her smile. “It’s creativity and imagination.” They’re inspiring words – but sadly, they’re not entirely true because it’s that lack of realism that seems to have caused the charity’s downfall.
There is a sense throughout the film that the founder believes her work for the kids will always win out — money will come through as long as she works hard enough to get it, just as long as she keeps her spirit and principles alive. And if it’s to help the kids, no expense at all should be spared. It’s a wonderful view, but perhaps too unrealistic for an organisation with £46m public funding over the last 15 years and hundreds of staff.
But then, as much as Batmanghelidjh might have been in denial about Kids Company’s future, she was also the victim of a witch-hunt — unfounded allegations of sexual abuse in the organisation, since investigated and disproved by the Met, and front page articles portraying her as some sort of morally-confused money-grabbing fantasist.
And what about the BBC’s very own Alan Yentob? The charity’s chair of trustees was noticeably silent in public throughout the media storm until he finally spoke out and quit his BBC executive job.
As the Corporation’s then creative director, he was accused of trying to influence BBC journalism when he accompanied Batmanghelidjh to an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme. The PACAC report published earlier this week found that Yentob’s evidence to the Committee suggested “a lack of proper attention to his duties as Chair of Trustees” and in Alleway’s film he comes across as a rather hands-off, absent boss of the dysfunctional Kids Company, barely featured in any of the documentary’s footage with Batmanghelidjh.
But wherever the blame really lies, it’s clear how awful the charity’s demise is for many of the families who relied upon it. The scenes of its closure are desperately sad — adults crying over the loss of their food vouchers, bus pass money, safe spaces for their children after school. And several of those kids, who have been rather absent from the press coverage, appear on camera to tell their stories.
Of course, even more shocking than the Kids Company fiasco is the fact that there are such deprived, desperate children in money-swamped London in the first place. “It’s like we’re a third world country giving out aid,” says one staff member on the imminent closure of Kids Company. “It’s going to be devastating.”
Camila’s Kids Company: the Inside Story is on tonight at 9pm on BBC1