Royal Institution may sell Mayfair building - Museums Association

Royal Institution may sell Mayfair building

Restructure also on the cards as science charity seeks to restore financial stability
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Rebecca Atkinson
The Royal Institution (RI) may have to sell its Mayfair building and undergo a restructure to ensure it survives a financial crisis brought on by its £22m redevelopment in 2008.

The charity, which was founded in 1799 to promote scientific research and education, is most famous for its televised Christmas lectures. It also runs a large programme of public and school events from its central London building on Albemarle Street, and is home to the Faraday Museum.

But Richard Sykes, chairman of the RI, said it a statement that the redevelopment of the building had undermined its financial position.

“The recently appointed trustees have worked hard to put the charity back on a sound financial footing,” he added. “Much has been achieved but more remains to be done financially and operationally to realise the full potential of the RI.”

This may involve the RI sub-letting or disposing of some or all of its property on Albemarle Street.

Sykes said: “The RI and its advisers are exploring a range of options to ensure it can continue to pursue fully its charitable aims and deploy its resources optimally. It is clear that this is likely to involve a restructuring of the charity and, ideally, a substantial partnership.”

He added that staff, members and wider stakeholders will be updated as soon as current discussions have concluded.

The RI’s 2008 redevelopment, which was funded by a £5m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, individual donors and through the sale of other properties, was carried out under the leadership of the charity’s then-director, Susan Greenfield.

In 2010, the trustees of the RI forced Greenfield to leave, stating that the organisation no longer needed a director. Later that year, Greenfield launched legal proceedings against the RI, claiming to be the victim of sexual discrimination, but subsequently settled out of the court.

A campaign to Save the RI has already been launched online and on Twitter (@Save21Albemarle).

Harry Kroto, the 1996 Nobel Laureate in chemistry, has lent his support to the campaign, writing on the blog: “If this building is sold the institution will be lost forever and it will be a loss fully commensurate with the 116 plays of Sophocles burned (only seven survive) and the wanton destruction of the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan as well as countless other priceless cultural icons of human creativity deliberately destroyed.  

“In this case the act will not be by ignorant philistines but people who profess to be guardians of our culture. Sale of the building will be the death-knell of the greatest shrine to not only British science but to the scientific culture of the world, and we must not let this happen.”

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