Leadership Diaries: A week of change

Antonia Swinson, CEO of the Ethical Property Foundation, takes us through the week when the findings of the 2022 Charity Property Matters Survey were launched… and both the prime minister and monarch changed.
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Monday

The Conservative Party Leadership contest reaches its climax, but politics feature less today, than putting together a proposal from a London council to provide webinar training. They want all their community centre tenants to cut their energy bills and be more energy efficient.

There is real fear and worry out there about the future. Our sector still has not recovered its mojo since the pandemic; burn-out as well as lost resilience and reserves, are hitting the sector hard.

These are just a few of the learning outcomes.

• Understand principles of cost and energy efficient maintenance management
• Learn to look at every area of your premises with the aim of cutting costs.
• Understand Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) and how they affect your finances: including your ability to borrow and let out your buildings.
• How to read an Energy Efficiency Certificate and understand how it affects your organisation

Our research shows low levels of understanding of how energy bills can be reduced. Another issue is that so often no one has responsibility for this. If my colleagues can inspire participants to make an energy reduction plan then that is half the battle.

Liz Truss is announced as the winner. Let’s hope there is something for small businesses including charities, in terms of support with energy bills this winter.

Tuesday

Much TV footage of cold rainy Aberdeenshire as Boris Johnson and Liz Truss fly north to see the Queen. I know it well: most of my adult life has been spent north of the border; six years as CEO of Social Enterprise Scotland. This job involved driving for miles visiting social enterprises across the highlands, islands, and Central Belt as well as The Shire, as posh folk call Aberdeenshire. I daren’t imagine what their energy bills are going to be this winter.

Here in London the rain is lashing the windows. I call think tank Pro Bono Economics, whose head of research and policy Helen Barnard, is chairing Thursday’s roundtable on the findings of our 2022 Charity Property Survey.

Three big issues have emerged: the financial health of the sector; hybrid working and building and energy costs. Sixty guests have booked so far, including folk from the Charity Commission, CAFBank and infrastructure bodies and funders from across England & Wales.

In the afternoon, I host a Zoom Meeting with the grants director of a leading UK grant funder. They want a consultancy service designed for their grant holders’ premises. My working title: The Cut Your Bills Energy Audit.

Within EPF’s brilliant team of 10 chartered surveyors, we have a Level 4 EPC assessor who visits charities’ premises and helps them cut energy bills - often in small cost-effective ways which earn back within months. He can also provide an enhanced Energy Performance Certificate.

People don’t realise that if they rent a property and let space out, then they must have the minimum energy efficiency standard. Social lenders and funders are getting twitchy about energy inefficient charity buildings – not least because they will be unsaleable.

Liz Truss, dodging the showers, addresses the nation from the Downing Street podium. It’s the first time since George IV and George Canning, that the monarch and PM have shared the same name.

Wednesday

An enquiry comes from a Bristol charity seeking help to negotiate their lease. EPF works with a register of trusted solicitors who really know their charity law. They offer some pro bono help and work at a discounted charity rate. I make a referral to an excellent solicitor and the charity is delighted. I hope it works out. His last case for us was for a charity wanting to evict squatters. A refreshing change from the usual – charities on the wrong end of the eviction notice.

Our challenge is that so many charities expect everything free. Yet as we all know, anything to do with property is expensive, litigious and risky. And if a charity gets free advice, however well-intentioned, from someone who does not understand charity law around property, then it can prove ruinously expensive. Not least for trustees who can find themselves personally liable and for charities who end up having to wind up.

In the Commons, Liz Truss has her first outing at PMQs. A grammar schoolgirl who answers the questions? Suddenly Boris seems history.

Thursday

The day of our roundtable. Pro Bono Economics’ brilliant Helen Barnard picks out the key research findings. Discussion brought out big differences between community centres and back-room offices; as well as rural versus urban property need. In West Wales for example, a key property issue is poor broadband. In London it’s rent levels. As for hybrid working, isn’t it time for HR directors and property managers to start talking? Hybrid working, we learn has driven investment into new IT and telephony, but many charities found staff require IT training.

On the screen in the corner, Liz Truss announces support for people’s energy bills. Business energy bills are capped for six months, but does that include charities? Please God yes – otherwise so many are going to have to close.

I start writing up the roundtable alongside the survey findings for a report to be published next month.

News comes in that the Queen’s health is causing her doctors concern…

Friday

We are all working on automatic pilot – suddenly no longer living in the second Elizabethan age. There is news of gun salutes and funeral arrangements.

Charities have always mattered to the Royal Family for relevance, occupation and purpose. So why has our sector never enjoyed such esteem with the public sector and policy makers, even though our sector is bigger than agriculture?

Today I am working on the Weston Property Manual – funded by Garfield Weston Foundation which launches this November. It is a free online how-to manual for any charity seeking to acquire and manage property. It is the biggest project EPF has ever taken on. I check copy and budgets to keep things real, amid the unreality. It has just dawned on us that none of us will ever live under a Queen again.

Long live King Charles III.

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