The Lord's Taverners is facing a rebellion after the charity disbanded its “old-fashioned” ladies fundraising arm, which boasted Margaret Thatcher as its first member.
Around 150 to 200 members are said to have resigned from the cricketing charity over the decision to close the Lady Taverners, which was done in the name of "diversity and inclusion".
Some have cancelled their legacies, and along with the loss of the fundraising from the group, it is estimated it cost the charity millions.
The merger into the Lord's Taverners saw some of the charity's most prominent women, including founder President Joan Morecambe, President Debbie McGee, and Life Presidents Judith Chalmers and Angela Rippon, lose their roles.
There are said to be concerns about the way in which the decision was made, with some describing it as "sexist" and others concerned about the financial impact it will have at a time of economic uncertainty.
Last week, some former Ladies organised a lunch under the name Phoenix, a reference to their rising from the ashes, and the £5,000 raised went to another charity, the Medical Detection Dogs.
"In this day and age, it is simply an anachronism to have categories of membership which appear to be defined by sex – even if the small print allows either sex to join either group," they told supporters.
It comes just a decade after the Lord's voted to admit women for the first time.
The Lord's Taverners, created by a group of actors in 1950 in the cricket ground's pub which had The Duke of Edinburgh as the Patron and Twelfth Man, only voted to admit women for the first time a decade ago.
For 60 years the charity, which helps disadvantaged and disabled young people, had been a men's only group of which every Prime Minister and England cricket captain were honorary members.
But Margaret Thatcher's election created a conundrum, and in 1980 it was decided that she would be invited to be an honorary Lady Taverner.
She accepted her post as Lady Taverner number one and 23 other women were invited to join by then president Eric Morecambe, including his wife and cricketer Rachael Heyhoe Flint .
They did not have voting rights and in recent years have paid a £65 membership fee rather than the full £100 paid by the Lord's.
But following a governance review in September 2020, they were told that they could no longer have a separate group and their regional committees were closed.
No attempt to ‘axe female membership’
The charity says it was no kind of an attempt to "axe female membership", but done to ensure "women's equal rights" and unity under one brand.
Even those involved have admitted that it is "unfortunate" that they are named after the Lord's Tavern.
But a group of former Lady Taverners, who wished to remain anonymous, complained that the decision was made "without any prior warning or consultation".
The whistleblowers say the "uncaring, undemocratic and unconstitutional" move led to "between 150-200 resignations, many from long-serving benefactors of both sexes, but mainly female".
The charity argued that only 22 resignations had mentioned the decision specifically and they anticipate that in total the number is between 60 and 80.
But many are said to have simply cancelled their standing orders without notice. The Ladies estimate it will mean an initial £500,000 hole from subscriptions, donations and events. Some have withdrawn their legacies, they say, including two that were for £100,000.
"As many of those who have gone would otherwise have been expected to stay for life, many more millions will be lost in the longer term," they told The Telegraph. "At such a time this is madness."
Others have decided to stay on including Chalmers, 85, who said she was "disappointed about the disbanding" but will continue to support the great work that they do.
Her comments were echoed by fitness guru Diana Moran, 82, who had been the "proud" President of the Surrey division.
"I have become a Taverner, but it is not the same and I miss my county and the branch members and all the fun that I have had raising money and awareness," she said.
"What makes me sad is that the outcome of this is that the money is not being raised for disabled children."
Originally set up as a fundraising arm, the Lady Taverners has raised more than £12million.
Angela Rippon, who was President for five years, said that "as she has resigned she did not think it was appropriate to comment".
Others were in favour of the merger, including soprano Lesley Garrett, a former President, who believes they are "stronger together".
"In today's world, which is all about diversity and inclusion, the idea of having two separate organisations – one for men and one for women – is old fashioned," she said.
"Historically it was absolutely vital as the only mouthpiece of women in cricket, but the inclusion they now enjoy as to be matched in the Taverners."
She said that "some of my best times" were with the group as "the lady cricketers play hard and the Lady Taverners enjoy hard".
"They were an incredibly important and powerful organisation," she said. "But this is part of natural development and now we will have those powerful women as part of a great organisation."
The charity last night insisted that they had consulted members on the changes which were made "to be progressive, fully compliant, sensitive to public perception and modern in outlook and delivery".
Mark Curtin, the CEO who has been in post for just a matter of weeks, said he is willing to discuss concerns but the focus was on helping young people and fulfilling their charitable aims.
He said that "we definitely don't have plans of changing the name of the charity", but they are going to carry out a "strategic review" of the brand.
Mr Curtin added that he was "happy" if people wanted to call themselves just Taverners, or Tavs as they are sometimes known.
However, it is unlikely to be the last that Mr Curtin hears from the Ladies, with some still hopeful they can return and entertainer Bob "the cat" Bevan last month elected to the trustees on a platform to save the Ladies.
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