Making buildings pay - 21 June

Cafe event in June: Making Buildings Pay, 21 June 2012 (see below for cafe write up)

This month's topic is Building Ownership for community, voluntary and faith organisations.

Places are FREE for local not for profits 

Has your organisation ever considered buying a building to improve financial sustainability? Are you interested in new funding for feasibility studies on building ownership for not for profits?  

The Office for Civil Society in the Cabinet Office are launching just such a funding stream, and it's going to be the focus of this month's Third Sector Cafe on Building Ownership for Not for Profits on Thursday, 21st of June. If you'd like to join us, we'd love to see you there. 

Sheffield is host to many voluntary, community and faith organisations who successfully resource their activities through owning a building. For many others, large monthly rental payments can feel like a significant outgoing which could be better invested in their organisation rather than their landlord's! But does building ownership really only work for organisations who already own their buildings, a generous legacy from forward thinking founders, or is it something that can be viable in today's property market? And if so, what are the questions you need to be asking about it? 

We'll be exploring this further with third sector organisations who currently own buildings in the city, asking them to share their top tips for what works - and what should be avoided at all costs. 

Local third sector consultant Sarah Brown, a veteran of many building feasibility studies, has kindly agreed to come along and give us a quick walk-through of the process of doing a building feasibility study. The funding available is meant to enable you to buy-in accredited experts to help you do a feasibility study: having a good understanding of what a study involves may help you improve the quality of any application you might put in! And, you'll be pleased to hear, some of the funding can also be used to pay for internal staff time.  

Sarah has recently been working with local charity FURD and Sheffield City Council on a project which has succeeded in raising £2.5 million investment in an amazing new youth centre, complete with much needed new playing pitches, at Lowfields. She will draw on lessons from this project to illustrate the essential ‘how tos’ of carrying out a building feasibility study.

But it's not all about new build. The idea of the Third Sector Cafe is that local organisations with experience can pass on some of what they've learnt to those who are just at the early stages of tackling whatever it is we're discussing. Sheffield can offer many examples of the not for profit sector making good use of the buildings.

  • Montgomery Hall in Surrey Street, was purpose built by far sighted charitable organisations (in this case in 1886 by Sheffield Sunday Schools Union as a training base and meeting space) a while ago. Today's version of the founding charity the Sheffield Christian Education Council, is continuing an ambitious programme of investing in the Hall enabling it to support activity which continues to contribute to their charitable objectives - but is also viable.   
  • Innovative use of existing community buildings is a recurrent theme too, The Heeley Development Trust are deep into ongoing negotiations to take on the old school. The Sharrow Community Forum has been managing Sharrow Old School: Jonathan Roberts has been telling us  what they've got planned next and the challenges of balancing viability with increasing community use as they've gone through a re-furbishment which has (temporarily) disrupted play for some of the groups using the building. 
  • Other community centres have seen income levels fall as public agencies reduce their spending. The Victoria Centre, developed as a social enterprise by the Victoria Church on the Manor, have seen vital rental income fall as room bookings from the Council and VAS have tailed off.  Rev Liz Wills describes the challenges of running the building profitably as involving a steep learning curve, but she told us about some interesting practice they have developed over the years, including a bursury fund and targeted fundraising support for local groups, which has enabled them to 'grow their own viable tenants' by helping local groups become more viable - and able to pay their rent!
  • John Bailey at Endcliffe Methodist Church has been telling us about the thoughtful approach they've been taking to develop plans for new uses for their buliding. Their Horizons project has started off with a short term contract for a development worker, which they are looking at extending over a longer 2 to 3 year time frame to help get some of the emerging ideas up and running. The Horizon project is looking at ways the church buildings can attract investment and revenue, and be of service to the local community. In particular they have identified that they may be able to offer something to the local shop keeping community, many of whom run independent small businesses. 
  • And there are also some great examples of communities doing it for themselves when it comes to buildings. Round the corner from us, at Portland Works, the tenants are in the process of buying their the building (home to over 300 tenants) from their landlord with a community share offer and we've been hearing more about how that has worked from some of those involved. And in Sheffield's cultural industries quarter Access Space have sent us some info about their refab project where volunteers have developed innovative ways to refurbish space, and get  more from less out of buildings they currently rent. 

Neil Berry, Head of Enterprise for national charity Locality, describes Sheffield as  "one of the best places in the country" when it comes to not for profits making use of our buildings. Like the others we've been talking to, he's hoping he can join us next Thursday to be part of the discussion and offer support based on his experience, to any other not for profits who have questions about whether buliding ownership is for them, and if so, how they should go about it. 

So if you've got questions on this topic, do join us: we hope there will be someone we can connect you with who can help!

Cafe write up

Sheffield  based organisations including Clive Jacques of Friends of Abbeydale Picture House, Duncan Walker of Chapeltown Baths, James Wallbank of Access Space Network, Trever Parsons of Wadsley Bridge Table Tennis Club, Jean Kidner of Haven House, Colin Harvard of Portland Works, Sue Cook and Steve Barnard of High Green Development Trust joined Sarah Brown of inspire2aspire, Neil Berry of Locality and Dave Thornett to discuss the challenges - and opportunities - that ownership of buildings presents them. 

Sarah opened the discussion by counselling caution: she suggested that only not for profits who needed a building to help them deliver their vision should consider it. Owning a building may look like a better option than paying rent, but in reality she suggested, rent is often less of a burden than the costs of building ownership! Not for profits should resist the urge to think of owning a building as a way to achieve security.

Reasons why they might need a building could include a specific need for a purpose designed building, or a need to secure their own destiny. 

She then discussed ways in which a building could pay its way and through many years of working with buildings she said she has only seen variations on three fundamental business models: rental income (letting it by the hour, day or longer lease); using it for activities or by attracting funding. Within these categories she has collected 126 different examples of ways buildings can  generate income. These are set out on an excel spreadsheet the 'building potential finder'. If you'd like to contact Sarah she's happy to offer a phone coaching session to Third Sector Cafe participants to talk you through how you can use this tool in relation to thinking about your own building.

Feedback from participants suggested they'd found the session extremely helpful.  A summary of the related tweets is also availble to give you a flavour of feedback!