Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh dieson January 2, 2024 at 10:38 pm

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The social justice campaigner, known for her work with children, died on her birthday, aged 61.

Camila BatmanghelidjhImage source, PA Media

Kids Company charity founder and social justice campaigner Camila Batmanghelidjh has died aged 61.

The Iranian-Belgian started the charity in 1996 in south London, to provide support to up to 36,000 deprived and vulnerable inner-city children and young people.

In 2015 she stepped down amid allegations of mismanagement – but a High Court cleared her of wrongdoing.

She died on Monday – her birthday – having been ill for sometime.

Ms Batmanghelidjh is said to have spent her last Christmas at home wrapping presents for vulnerable children.

A family statement shared with the Guardian newspaper said she died “peacefully in her sleep” on the night of January 1, after celebrating her birthday with loved ones.

It described her as an “endless source of inspiration” who “dedicated her life to advocating for Britain’s most vulnerable children”.

The statement said: “For all those around her, and especially for her family, she was endless source of inspiration, a fountain of wit, and a kaleidoscope of colour.”

Born into a wealthy family in Iran, she arrived in England aged 12, speaking little English, and went on to gain a first-class degree from Warwick University.

She was educated at the the private Sherborne Girls school in Dorset and was there when the Iranian revolution broke out and her father was captured. She says he was presumed dead for three years, before they were eventually reunited – something which had a profound effect on her family. He died in 2006.

In a 2014 interview, she said as she had been born prematurely and it was thought that she would die. As a result of this, her birth had not been registered.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales chats to founder Camila Batmanghelidjh (L) at a Kids Company dinner on May 14, 2008 in London, England.

Image source, Getty Images

“I don’t know my birthday. My mother can’t remember,” she said.

After training as a psychotherapist, she founded Kids Company in 1996 and was its chief executive for 19 years.

She traced its origins back to a desire she had at the age of nine to open an orphanage.

The charity sought to provide support to deprived children from low-income families, and grew from a drop-in centre in south London to 11 centres across the capital, and also in Bristol and Liverpool.

In 2015, she stepped down after Kids Company ran into financial difficulties. The charity shut down in August that year, after the Metropolitan Police launched an investigation into sexual assault allegations, following the broadcast of a BBC Newsnight report.

Ms Batmanghelidjh was appointed CBE and listed among the UK’s most powerful women by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour in 2013.

Known for her colourful dress sense, at the height of her fame she rubbed shoulders with politicians, being sought out by Labour and Conservative governments, and had celebrity supporters.

Former prime minister David Cameron, Coldplay, artist Damien Hirst and comedian Michael McIntyre were among the charity’s well-known backers.

A subsequent police investigation found no evidence of criminality or safeguarding failures.

Former leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron attends a Demos think tank event with Camila Batmanghelidjh, Founder and Director of Kids Company, on January 11, 2010 in London, England.

Image source, Getty Images

And in 2021, Ms Batmanghelidjh and six others won their High Court battle against disqualification from being directors of other organisations.

At the time, the judge said that had it not been for the allegations of criminality the charity may have survived.

However, the Charity Commission later ruled it had been mismanaged – although it said there was “no dishonesty, bad faith, or inappropriate gain in the operation of the charity”.

A year ago she won the right to take a legal appeal against the judgement, but ill health meant she was unable to do so.

Veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman is among those to pay tribute to her, writing: “Such a sad loss. So many children and young people benefitted from her big heart.”

The Baptist minister, television presenter and founder of Oasis Charitable Trust, Steve Chalke, said he would “forever be grateful” to Ms Batmanghelidjh “for her wisdom and depth of love for children”.

He added that he was equally grateful for “all she contributed to my understanding as well as to Oasis since 2015 and the untimely, unjust closure of Kids Company.”

The charity Brixton Soup Kitchen said she had “donated over 100 Christmas gifts last week to less fortunate kids”.

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