Why your charity’s property is so vital to Birmingham’s voluntary sector

Antonia Swinson, CEO of Ethical Property Foundation

It has never been a more challenging time to run a voluntary organisation. We are all being asked to do more with less, against a backdrop of rising rents, evictions, soaring demand and a worryingly unsustainable disconnect between the UK’s have-nots and the have-yachts.

My organisation, the Ethical Property Foundation, is the UK property advice charity for the voluntary sector. Set up in 2004 to provide free property advice and training, over the years, we have since supported many organisations across Birmingham and the Midlands – with issues around leases and licences and premises management problems as well as moving and disposing property and coping with developers. We are working on the front line between hard-pressed civil society and an increasingly fevered market economy: our clients are so often stressed, harassed and fearful of making the wrong decision, and we are here to provide friendly, expert support – as a charity ourselves.

In recent years, we have concentrated on property education to build property knowledge and resilience to local groups, with practical workshops and advice clinics to show that how a building is managed, whether rented or owned, massively impacts on staff, volunteers and service users.

Underpinning all our work is research and last November we published our fourth Charity Property Matters Survey in partnership with the Charity Commission which makes for interesting reading.


It revealed that: 30% of charities believed that property was a barrier to delivering their charitable objectives, almost double the proportion in our 2016 Survey (17%). More than one third of charities (36%) believed that property poses a high or very high risk to their organisation, while almost one third (32%) of charities were having trouble in finding funding for property costs while a further 26% anticipate this will be a challenge in the future.

Equally shockingly, 66% of charities said they did not have a strategic property plan (up from 52% in 2016); 44% did not report regularly on property to trustees and 32% said they do not have complete records of the property they own or rent.

This lack of attention to property is exacerbating an already challenging reality for our voluntary organisations. Increasing numbers are now renting from commercial landlords as local authorities sell and develop their estate, and funders – hit by years of low interest rates – are increasingly reluctant to fund core costs. There are also worrying indications that some local authorities are asking charities to prove their social impact with a view to establishing commercial rents minus reductions for social value: which will still be an unbridgeable increase for local groups used to community rents.

All in all, never have our not-for-profits – staff and trustees – needed to be more wised up about bricks and mortar to survive and to deliver for their communities. Do contact the Ethical Property Foundation to see if we can help your organisation. We offer free online and tailored 1:1 advice plus free workshop training, as well as affordable consultancy services such as property health checks and trustee training, to assist charities with more complex needs.

We are delighted to be planning a free workshop to Birmingham for next year in partnership with BVSC. This City is the big and beating heart of our island, and you deserve a vibrant and successful voluntary sector. Of course, as everyone in the UK voluntary sector knows, it is Brum energy and dynamism, which so often leads the way for the rest of us!

Antonia Swinson is the CEO of Ethical Property Foundation.
#epf4charities The Charity Property Survey 2018 is available as a free download from the EPF website: www.ethicalproperty.org.uk