Our architect recommended that we contact you for advice
on how to move forward with our idea for setting up a community
business in our church - a business that will help to build links
with and serve local people. Can you help us to get
YOU have a sensible architect, who recognises that there are
plenty of issues other than physical design which should be
addressed in your community business.
Feasibility is the second stage of your bright idea. One element
of feasibility is the challenge of adapting your space for business
use. On the whole, that business - even the community café or
bookshop - will need at least some sole-use space, so that its
assets are not disturbed or used in its absence. Apart from that,
address the physical changes needed for the business, and
informally consult those who need to give permission, through your
With any kind of business, the space is only one element of
feasibility. Here are some other issues to be addressed and
resolved in a draft business plan. First, management should address
the legal and financial structure of the business, remembering
that: the business will have to have appropriately qualified staff;
the structure should almost always be legally separate from the
PCC, such as a charitable company, or you will create VAT problems
for the church; the structure should allow the church itself to
continue its ministry as normal. The structure should also protect
the business for the future, allowing the business to thrive even
when a new priest arrives.
A new business - even a community business - should have
thorough market research, so that its ability to be viable and
sustainable can be well assessed. Then, a marketing plan should be
drawn up, based on actual research. This will be site-specific:
that is, you can use the model from another church or community
business, but the specifics must relate to your actual location.
Think of this in the way you would if you needed to draw up a plan
to convince a bank to give the business start-up money.
The cash-flow projection used for feasibility consideration must
be based on financial reality. Be realistic about management and
staffing, and the market, and work to establish the business; in
the early days, it will not be profitable, but will need working
capital to get it going.
You would be wise to get someone with a business background that
is relevant to the type of business, such as a café or pre-school.
And make a thorough risk assessment in relation to income and
expenditure, external factors beyond your control, marketing, new
businesses moving in near by, and more.
It is important that you establish the financial relationship
between the church and the business before you start. The church
should do its own cash projections to ensure that the business can
pay enough to the church under its lease to at least cover all the
costs of its use of the building. That covers everything from
heating, to cleaning and lavatory supplies; it is better, in view
of the rising costs of utilities, to consider raising the rent each
year at least in line with inflation on items such as utilities, so
that the business knows from the start that it will face regular
The next element of feasibility is to be realistic in assessing
the source of your funds for adapting your church and establishing
the building. Capital costs may be determined with your design
team, and the revenue cost may be calculated from the business
plan. If you plan to ask grant-makers to assist, research the kind
of criteria that they will expect you to meet.
Only if the feasibility stage shows "Go ahead: it will work"
will you have a development stage. If you are dependent on outside
funding, the first element of the development may be a fund-raising
programme. Remember that the more money you need to raise, the
longer it will take to achieve.
Then you will commission the work of the architect, and also
establish the fundamentals of the business. It is the stage during
which you will regularly rework your business and management plan,
as you will find many more concrete details that can be inserted,
and financial items that can be put into place.
If you are depending on outside funding (and if you are being
wise with your own money), remember that you may need to put design
work out to tender, and later comply with detailed requirements of
Construction comes next, but the final phase is taking the
community business through its early stages and teething
It is a long journey; so gird your loins, knuckle down, and
celebrate each stage as an achievement.