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Do the forward planning

by
02 November 2006

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TWENTY YEARS ago we renovated the interior of our church to provide an assembly room, kitchen, and toilets. Local groups used it, but the upkeep, cleaning, and key-holding fell to church members. The rent covered only heat and light, not the cost of a caretaker, and the facilities are no longer let out. How can churches deal with this?

IT IS hard when the valuable time, energy, and commitment of church members has been expended, and the end result is disappointment. It doesn’t need to be this way.

Before creating new facilities for your community, you should address the long-term implications of changing the church’s structure. Will such work be sustainable?

If there is a clear need for additional facilities, then the church should consider going ahead with the alterations to meet that demand. How would the buildings be paid for and managed?

Make a projected schedule of who will use the hall or meeting-room and when. Volunteers normally cannot work every day and at anti-social hours (such as locking up halls late at night). Administration may need more time than the vicar and churchwardens have to offer. Calculate how much staff time is needed for what specific tasks and the cost of this.

Consider all other running costs such as heat and light, but also repair and maintenance, insurance, administration, and equipment. Make a budget for these in addition to the staff costs.  The income from letting out the hall should cover the cost of running it: staff, utilities, and overheads.

Divide the total cost by the hours of use, and you will get some idea of how much each group will need to contribute. If the letting rate is impossibly high for your area, compared with other local halls — but not church halls, as they tend to charge much less than cost — then it may not be a good plan to create the facilities for letting. Alternatively, you may find that a little advertising would bring in more groups to use the hall. A busy hall would at least pay for itself.

The church could also benefit from a small rent that would help to cover church costs. The rate does not have to be uniform. Small groups serving disadvantaged people may get a discount; and social gatherings at the weekend may be charged more. Adjust the budget until it makes sense for the long-term financial stability of the project.

These elements are the core of a plan for sustainable facilities, and can justify going ahead and raising capital funds for new facilities. But the revenue sums must add up to justify the capital investment.

There are patches in the country where, at least initially, the letting income seems to be inadequate, but the facilities are needed. It may be possible to fund-raise for grant aid to help with running costs. But do this fund-raising work before getting stuck into the building. If you do so, you will know from the outset that your investment will be worth it in the long run.

maggie.durran@churchtimes.co.uk

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