Sandra Horley has retired as chief executive of Refuge having led the charity for more than three decades.
Trustees have appointed Carole Easton as interim chief executive while they recruit a permanent replacement.
Horley has led Refuge since 1983. She was awarded an OBE in 1999 and a CBE in 2011 in recognition of her work.
She said: “Now is the right time for me to retire from Refuge. I am proud to have led the charity over the last 37 years. It is now established as the leading service provider in this country for those fleeing domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence. It has also been at the forefront of the campaign to change social attitudes to these issues.”
Refuge supports over 6,500 survivors a year. It employs 400 staff and volunteers, and has an income of around £15m.
Earlier this month the Telegraph said it had seen a whistleblowing letter claiming staff were unhappy with the new chair of the charity, Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, over her role as chief executive of a weapons firm.
Refuge did not comment on the allegations in the Telegraph. A spokesperson said Horley's departure was not connected to the article.
In a statement yesterday, Barkworth-Nanton said: “I want to thank Sandra for her long and renowned career with Refuge and her unwavering support for the many women and children she has helped over the years. It’s an incredible achievement, devoting so much of her career and energy to a cause that we all care about so much.
“I wish her my very best wishes for the future and, as a board alongside all of our staff and volunteers, we will do our absolute best to build on her legacy so Refuge can increase the support we provide for women and children escaping domestic abuse.”
In 2018, former Refuge staff complained of a “toxic” workplace culture.
The Charity Commission opened a compliance case at the time, but closed it when it was satisfied that the trustees were taking appropriate action.
There has also been criticism of Horley’s salary. Her total remuneration package is over £200,000, which is substantially more than that received by many chief executives at larger charities.