Challenges facing the charity sector – the experts’ views

THINK TANK: Charity leaders from the south gathered in Winchester for a round table discussion and the exchange of ideas and best practices in an event hosted by HWB Chartered Accountants and Charisma Charity Recruitment in Winchester

Charitable organisations from a range of sectors across the central south region have been outlining the difficulties facing the charity sector in today’s challenging world.

Revenue sources and fundraising remain a top concern, together with the volatile economic environment, increased demand on services, recruitment challenges, collaboration opportunities and restructuring to survive.

The charity bosses were speaking at a Charity Think Tank hosted by HWB Chartered Accountants and Charisma Charity Recruitment in Winchester.

Laura Read, Chief Executive of international wildlife conservation charity Marwell Wildlife, said today’s economic backdrop meant that charity run attractions or events had to work that much harder to make sure they were the number one choice when hard-pressed families were deciding on a day out.

“All the money we receive funds our day to day running costs as well as our conservation efforts both here in the UK and across the world, so when gate admissions are reduced, it places pressure both on our funding of conservation projects and also the available capital we are able to reinvest in making sure we have a fantastic experience for our guests.

“With animal welfare as our top priority, our overheads are considerable. We burn a lot of energy, use a lot of food and need a lot of people to care for our animals, as well as our guests.

“When the weather doesn’t do what we want it to do, it can make things very challenging as we are a mostly outdoor attraction. We cross our fingers and do a sun dance every year. Like many charities, our next step is to look carefully at how we can diversify income and mitigate some of these factors to make us future ready.”

Phillipa Spicer is CEO of YMCA Fairthorne Group, a local community charity that delivers an array of services to over 40,000 children, young people and families across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, making a positive impact on their lives and creating magical childhood memories.

She said: “We are going through a phase of change having created a new five-year strategy, looking at how we deliver on our charitable aims and purpose, and increase our social impact to continue to meet the needs of our community.

“Recruitment has been challenging especially in our Early Years sector, an issue facing the whole sector nationally. We have been lucky in other service delivery areas where recruitment has not been such a big issue.”

Andrew Simpson is Chief Executive, of Winchester Housing Trust, which was set up in 1987 to provide affordable housing in the Winchester district and surrounding areas. The not-for-profit charity works very closely with local authorities to ensure its rented properties are allocated via appropriate nominations for those in housing need.

He said: “My biggest challenge at the moment is interest rates – our borrowing rate is quite high, meaning anything in which we want to invest is costing us higher than we are used to and we need to make sure that we can cover this increase. This is limiting what we can and cannot do currently.

“Predominately, our own stock is held within the Winchester area and we try to keep that affordable in terms of rents. Inflation has had a knock-on effect as this affects rent increases and the cost of maintenance. These increases are making it difficult for our tenants to make ends meet.”

Sue McKenna is Chief Executive of Trinity Winchester, a charity which addresses the effects of homelessness and vulnerability through specialist practical and emotional support, and proactive prevention. It also has a Women’s Service, supporting survivors of domestic abuse.

“Trinity’s strategy is focused on ending the need to rough sleep, in line with previous Government targets of 2025. We hope this can happen, however, it is a real challenge.

“One of our key aims is to prevent homelessness, which led us from our original day centre provision to now providing accommodation which is totally supported and has wraparound holistic therapies.

“We would like to see more collaboration from similar agencies to create systemic change, which we believe would maximise funding and services opportunities so that the individuals in need remain the real beneficiaries.”

THINK TANK: Charity leaders attending the Charity Think Tank hosted by HWB Chartered Accountants and Charisma Charity Recruitment at Hotel Du Vin, Winchester, from left: Sally Arscott (Solent Mind), Laura Reed (Marwell Wildlife), Deryck Newland (Play to the Crowd), Andrew Simpson (Winchester Housing Trust), Sandeep Sesodia (Parity Trust), Marc Evans (Fishermen’s Mission), Richard Corbett (Hampshire & IOW Air Ambulance), Michaela Johns (HWB Chartered Accountants), Julie Ames (Energise Me), Phillipa Spicer (YMCA Fairthorne Manor), Sue McKenna (Trinity Winchester) and Adam Stacey (Charisma Charity Recruitment)

Sally Arscott is Chief Executive of Solent Mind, part of the Mind Federation, covering Portsmouth, Southampton and southern parts of Hampshire.

The organisation provides a whole raft of mental health services, including early intervention and prevention work through a series of wellbeing centres, where people can drop-in and access support, either face-to-face, in group sessions, courses, peer support or workshops.

“We are also located in every GP surgery across Southampton and Hampshire and patients with mental health issues can be referred to our wellbeing advisers. Lots of our funding comes from the NHS and local authorities and other bodies, but funding is increasing tight as NHS face growing pressures.

“We have gone through a time of huge growth in our organisation because, post-covid19, there has been a great deal of recognition for the mental health challenges everyone is facing. We know there are more mental health issues than ever before with the need constantly growing.

“Our challenges are around how we reshape our services so we meet the level of need but with less money. Therefore we have lots of remodelling of services going on. We are not sitting here waiting for the magic money tree which we know will not arrive – we have just got to keep delivering.

“Resources are so squeezed that the best way we will deliver all we want to do is work in partnership with others – and not to duplicate what others do. Collaboration is the best way forward.”

Deryck Newland is Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Play to The Crowd, an arts and education charity which runs Theatre Royal Winchester, Hat Fair, an Outdoor Arts Festival and Playmakers, the charity’s community engagement arm.

He said: “Our vision as a charity is to delight and unite our communities – and with every year that passes at the moment this feels more important and critical in an external environment that often seems to be pulling us apart and making us more miserable.

“We’re quite a small charity and our funding sources are diminishing as public funds come under greater pressure. Now, less than 10 per cent of our income comes from public sources.

“Everything else has to be revenue raised or fundraised – and that is only going to get more challenging, particularly for cultural organisations where our work is regarded as a discretionary rather than a statutory service in local authority terms.

“We, as a society, are therefore going to have to change our mindset about the things that we want in our community and how they happen and are sustained.

“There will have to be honest conversations about what we want in the places where we live, work and play. For example that might involve local businesses making an investment in the places where they operate and to the charities that help make those places desirable, rather than simply offering sponsorship.

“Charities will have to be brave, pragmatic and dynamic to survive in today’s challenging environment.”