Running from 2 to 6 November 2020, Trustees’ Week showcases the vital role of charity trustees. This annual event highlights opportunities for people from all walks of life to get involved and make a difference. 

Here at Thomas Westcott, we are proud to have a dedicated Charities and Not for Profit team to provide specialist financial advice to more than 400 charities, from small, local not for profits run entirely by trustees to large regional charities. 

This has been an especially challenging year for the sector and we have been supporting our charity clients as they adapt to survive. Head of our Charity and Not for Profit team Steve Cresswell discusses the issues with one of our longstanding clients, Andrew Laming from Calvert Trust Exmoor, a Devon-based charity that offers a valuable service to people with physical, learning, behavioural and sensory disabilities.

1. What does Calvert Trust Exmoor do?

Calvert Trust Exmoor has provided adventurous outdoor activities for people with disabilities since 1996. Each year we welcome approximately 4,000 disabled people with their families and carers to our centre. 

Our focus is on enabling people with disabilities to achieve their potential through the challenge of adventurous activities. We also aim to improve the understanding of disability and to encourage the integration of disabled and able-bodied people across society.

At our centre, through the challenge of the activities we offer, our guests develop skills, foster new friendships and build self-confidence and independence. No one, no matter how disabled, is ever excluded from taking part and everyone gains from a visit. One mum of a severely disabled child summed up what that meant: 

“Calvert is a safe place, where Adam can be himself, where no one judges or stares, where everyone encourages each other. This means we can relax and enjoy time with Adam – we can celebrate what he can do.”

2. What was the position before Coronavirus hit the UK in March 2020 and how did 2020 look for the Charity?

A new set of trustees and management team had recently been brought in with new skills and more commercial outlook. A turnaround program and the first steps on our strategic plan were well underway. 

When Covid-19 struck, the charity was on track, not only to be able to support more disabled people and their families, but to achieve the forecasted £1.3million income from guest contributions in 2020, compared with £1.1 million in 2019. 

3. How did lockdown affect the charity?

The Covid-19 pandemic meant that we had to close the doors to our guests in March through to late August to protect our staff, our guests and their families and our volunteers and ensure we followed government restrictions. 

While being totally necessary, these steps have been devastating, not only to our guests but for the charity’s financial position. Sadly, it has brought us to the brink of having to close permanently as our two main sources of income - guest contributions towards visits and fundraising towards the breaks - suddenly stopped. 

Before the pandemic, the average funding gap per night was £33. It is now £136 per night.

Calvert Trust Exmoor has lost £1million in guest revenue as a direct result of the lockdown measures and the subsequent restriction on capacity at the centre, and more recently as a result of further restrictions, including the rule of six.

We would normally service about 11,000 bednights. In 2020 this is likely to be 2,500. Most of the bookings from 2020 have moved to 2021, meaning the capacity for future sales is vastly reduced, particularly if capacity restrictions continue to apply.

4. What action did you take in response to the restrictions?

When lockdown was introduced in March, we immediately established a steering group, which included the Centre Director and four key trustees. This group meets twice weekly. Our immediate concern was to quickly establish all absolutely necessary costs and to eliminate all other costs where possible. We sought payment holidays and payment suspensions and reduced our running costs to a minimum. This involved heating being turned off, our swimming pool being emptied and horses being grazed outside day and night.

An emergency cashflow was prepared and we are continuously reviewing it as the situation develops and continues to evolve.

Staffing is continually being assessed. We need to measure the financial consequences versus the need to retain the highly experience team that will be needed once we get to spring 2021. 

5. Which funding sources have you accessed to help you through the crisis?

We have accessed a range of Government support and other schemes and funding sources, as well as personal donations, to help us through the year. Among others, these include the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, a CBILS loan, North Devon LADF and funding from Sport England and the National Lottery. 

With all this support, we have so far managed to raise around £700,000 towards the £1million+ gap.

6. Have you re-opened the centre and how are you now operating?

Calvert Trust Exmoor reopened on 21 August at half capacity, with most guests opting to move their booking to 2021. The guests are kept in bubbles throughout their stay and measures are in place in the canteen and public areas to maintain social distancing. We are undertaking extra cleaning, not only of the premises but also the equipment and aids used during the activities.

7. Do you believe your actions will have improved the position of the Charity?

The charity is in survival mode, pure and simple. Our first target was to get to November 2020 and the next hurdle is to get to spring 2021. Beyond that it is very difficult to see what will happen. We have a robust five-year strategic plan to diversify and to make the charity more sustainable but getting though to the spring is our immediate priority.

8. Do you see the charity being the same after Coronavirus as it was before?

The Management and Trustees had already developed a strategic plan to diversify the charity to make it more sustainable. Covid-19 has advanced that thinking and is a catalyst to change. Assuming the short-term challenges are overcome, we will create a more sustainable business model which is essential for the charity’s survival in the future.

To find out more about Calvert Trust Exmoor and support the charity, please visit their website HERE