IFN Circular 8/24 - Inter Faith Network likely imminent closure - a message from the Co-Chairs

This page contains a copy of IFN Circular 8/24, sent to member bodies on 8 February 2024.

Dear IFN member body contact,

It is with great regret that we write to let you know that, at its meeting yesterday, the Board of the Inter Faith Network for the UK took an in principle decision to begin closure of the organisation.

The financial position

The Board has, across the last year, continued to explore options for funding IFN’s important work, which has been making a positive difference to inter faith understanding and cooperation in the UK since 1987.

Some funds were raised through the urgent Appeal that the Board launched last year, following the 3 month gap in Government funding from April to June 2023, which followed DLUHC’s decision to write on 31 March to say that funding would cease from the following day. The Board was very grateful to the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust for a special grant of £50,000, and to an individual donor who matched that grant, as well as to donors who provided match funding for the Appeal and all those who have made donations and grants during the year. The funds raised have been very important in enabling IFN’s work to continue to this point, and much appreciated.

As member bodies are aware, IFN received news, on 7 July, that funding of £200,000 would, after all, be offered by Government to IFN for July 2023 to March 2024 (comprised of £155,000 fresh funding and access to £45,020 underspend from its 2022-23 grant). The Board believed that would be sufficient to enable the work of IFN to continue, alongside funding raised from other sources.  However, as the months went by and no Grant Funding Agreement was provided by Government, the Board’s level of concern rose and, as you are aware, while the funding was still anticipated, permanent staff were issued with redundancy notices in December as a precaution.

A Working Group on Fundraising and a Working Group on Long Term Sustainability (WGLTS) have met a number to times since the summer and the latter offered recommendations to us at yesterday’s meeting.  It is very clear that, despite sound financial management and the commitment and hard work of staff and Trustees, IFN’s work is no longer viable in the absence of confirmation by 22 February of the offered funding from Government of 7 July with a reasonable timeframe to complete the work (or agreed variances) or funding at least at that level from elsewhere. 

The letter of 19 January to us from the Secretary of State Rt Hon Michael Gove MP (sent two hours after we had written to him asking again for a Grant Funding Agreement and provided near simultaneously to the Sunday Telegraph) made it clear that he was now – over six months since the offer of funding was made – linking any prospect of receiving the new funding component (£155,000) to what he would perceive as a satisfactory response to his assertion that IFN having a Trustee who is a member of the Muslim Council of Britain poses a ‘reputational risk to Government’.  The statement issued on behalf of the Board made clear its response, clearly rooted in IFN’s Articles and Relevant By-Law. It can be seen at https://www.interfaith.org.uk/news/statement-on-a-letter-received-by-ifns-co-chairs-from-secretary-of-state-levelling-up-housing-and-communities-rt-hon-michael-gove-mp

We are grateful to all those member bodies who have again written to MPs and Ministers about the matter. We have had no reply from Mr Gove to our letter to him of 22 January, nor to a further letter to him from us of 26 January, requesting payment of the offered funds. In this context, given Trustees’ fiduciary responsibilities and having taken into account all other funding options, the Board has, as noted above, agreed to set IFN on the path of closure.  It has received and accepted an offer of a restricted donation to help that happen in a careful and appropriate way and to ensure IFN’s legacy.

Details of that closure process are being worked out and further information will be provided later this month after the Board’s next full meeting. 

Other considerations

We note that funding is not the only issue.  IFN has, for over 35 years, had a remarkably wide pattern of work which has been taken forward with a very small staff supporting the Board. That work has become ever more complex, not least because of the growing complexity of faith community relations – perhaps particularly in the context of impacts of overseas events on inter faith relations in the UK. The nature of those events and that impact changes but they have in common a periodic worsening of particular relationships in the UK. IFN has usually navigated those periods and been able to be helpful where appropriate and possible but that has become increasingly challenging.  Recent months have seen attacks on its policy on making statements (not making statements on overseas events, except indirectly, where there is an impact on UK inter faith relations and comment on the latter) and some indication of anger on the part of some that IFN has not aligned itself with particular positions or stood in support of them.  This has also been an issue at some times in the past, in the context of other overseas terrorist attacks and/or conflicts. The immense challenges involved in taking forward engagement in such context is naturally compounded by serious underfunding and unpredictability of funding.

The future of IFN’s important work

In preparing for closure, we will be considering, across the coming weeks, whether and how particular strands of IFN’s work relating to each of its categories of membership, and its wider work, including Inter Faith Week, may be taken forward for the future.

IFN will be convening a final meeting of the Faith Communities Forum to set in motion conversations that may continue after IFN closes about how the faith communities may choose to engage with each other post-IFN. 

There will also be discussions with the inter faith linking bodies of the devolved nations about how they will engage in the future.

It would be helpful to hear from local inter faith bodies what reflections you may have on ways that local inter faith support might be taken forward in the future: A new linking body? Support from some other existing organisation? Another option?

Similarly, it would be helpful to hear from national and regional inter faith organisations and educational and academic bodies with reflections on what they think could be helpful in the future.

Inter Faith Week is a major programme of IFN and we welcome, also, reflections on the future handling of that.

Thoughts can be sent to the Board via ifnet@interfaith.org.uk marked ‘Taking IFN’s work strands into the future’, if possible by 20 February.

We would add that the WGLTS and Board have, of course, considered other options – in particular some kind of volunteer continuation of IFN’s work.  However, IFN’s work and trusted reputation is built on solid staff support alongside the contribution of volunteers and we do not believe that IFN’s reputation could be maintained were the organisation to have no professional support or inadequate professional support.

It is deeply regrettable that IFN should close. However, it is better that it be closed than that it become a disappointing shadow of its former self and also increasingly vulnerable to the kind of attacks that it has had to weather in recent years.

We will be in touch again in due course.

Best wishes,

Canon Hilary Barber and Narendra Waghela,
Co-Chairs

 

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