Taking the strain out of a community asset
Effingham Village Recreation Trust
“Action Planning’s report has given us a huge sense that what we said was the case has been shown to be true. It has made the business of getting through the stage of accessing the money easier and we are in a much more relaxed mental state.”
Sue Morris, Managing Trustee, Effingham Village Recreation Trust
Effingham Village Recreation Trust (EVRT) is a charity run by a group of volunteer trustees responsible for the management, maintenance and development of the local King George V Hall and Playing Fields. Over the years the workload on the trustees has significantly increased to the point that it is now unsustainable. At the same time it has become harder to attract new trustees with the time and requisite skills to donate to the task.
Effingham Parish Council (EPC), which funds EVRT with an annual grant, was prepared to make further funds available to enable the Trust to hire additional resources and invest in infrastructure. However, EPC needed to be convinced that any additional investment would enable the Trust to achieve its long-term goals. EVRT, therefore, sought professional guidance in developing a fully costed proposal and time line to present to EPC.
A member of EPC introduced Action Planning to EVRT as potential partner to assist in developing a business plan that could be presented to EPC. Action Planning was asked to consider two ‘exam questions’: 1. How should the Trustees develop a viable plan for distributing and resourcing the various tasks, to the satisfaction of EPC? 2. How can EVRT be sustainable in the long term, without overburdening the trustees?
We took the view that it would make sense to consider both questions simultaneously, to guard against setting up a ‘temporary fix’, which would later have to be changed. We began by interviewing the Facilities Manager, the Finance Administrator, the four trustees in post at the time and two representatives of EPC. We reviewed examples of paperwork and processes to get a feel for how things were being done and, in light of this, reviewed the schedule of tasks prepared by the Trustees.
We then explored the potential to increase income and considered the resource implications and financial viability of implementing activities to generate income. Our conclusions were presented to the Trustees in a written report and, once amended following useful feedback and clarification, this was presented to EPC.
The report was shared in confidence with EPC in support of an application prepared by the Trustees for the proposed additional funding. This application was presented at a meeting of EPC and approved, enabling the Trustees to start the process of hiring additional resources and initiating much needed improvements to the trust’s infrastructure. These proposed improvements include changing the constitution of the Trust, upgrading its internal systems and making more use of existing assets. These changes will be implemented over time, recognising the ongoing time and resource constraints on the Trustees.
In our increasingly ‘busy’ world, it is becoming harder and harder for charities and community groups to get people with appropriate skills to commit the time to lead and manage projects on a sustained basis. People are often willing to commit to one-off tasks, but are less inclined to serve for the long term.
This was the case with EVRT, compounded by the fact that a number of significant challenges had increased the burden on trustees to an intolerable level, creating a need for more help, but at the same time making it less attractive to new Trustees.
At one level our brief was fairly straightforward – to determine what difference could be made by some extra paid help and to give confidence to EPC that it should provide the promised funding. But as we engaged with the assignment it became clear that there was both an opportunity and a need for a root and branch reorganisation of the way in which the Trust operated. This would involve simplifying some processes and then redistributing the work more logically between the small staff team, Trustees and other volunteers.
Image from The Guildford Dragon