Working together to ensure the future of Bridge Clubs in the Brentwood & Billericay Area
Hutton Bridge Club (Monday), Mayflower Bridge Club (Tuesday), St Edith's Lane Bridge Club (Wednesday), Mountnessing Bridge Club (Thursday)
FINANCING THE PROJECT
FINANCIAL MODELLINGThe exploration of the option to take space at the Brentwood Leisure Centre (see the 'Premises' page) led to some financial modelling work, which takes the form of a spreadsheet. We invite members of any of the four clubs to inspect, check, and challenge this work; if you wish to do so, please e-mail email@example.com and state whether you want it in EXCEL (XLS) or Open Document Spreadsheet (ODS) format
The model assumes:
- That the current level of membership and playing sessions is broadly maintained, though it includes allowance for a small 'drop-off'
- It includes projections for annual membership fees (£20 to cover all four clubs, or £10 to cover any one club) and table money (members £2, extra 50p where wine prizes are awarded); it includes a novel 'rebate' scheme, similar to the EBU's Pay to Play rebate scheme, for table money for all players who average more than three sessions a week at the combined club throughout a full membership year. [Of course those proposals will all need to be reviewed and possibly revised if / when a specific proposal is developed.]
- It assumes that we would attract some of the other smaller local clubs to 'join the fold', probably as 'tenants' , though possibly as full members
- It assumes that we would establish some teaching sessions. The projected income from these sessions is less than the 'margin of comfort', so financially it isn't critical in the short term - though of course in the medium / long term it forms the main argument for undertaking this project!!!! The financial modelling assumes that we would send two people per year onto the EBU Club Teacher Training courses; we would need to find the first two such volunteers and they would need to agree to run at least one course per week each for the new set-up. Additionally, we need to find players from within the club(s) who are already qualified / experienced to teach and who would run classes from start-up.
- One of the points of this project was to increase resilience / reduce dependence on a small number of people. The financial modelling assumes that we would send two people per year onto the EBU Director Training courses; we would need to find the first two such volunteers and they would need to agree to join a Directors' rota for the new set-up. Additionally, we need to find players from within the club(s) who are already qualified / experienced to direct and who would join the rota from start-up.
APPLYING FOR GRANTS
- If we want, one day, to buy anywhere, or indeed, if after all, we take on a lease / rent and still have significant start-up costs, then we will need to get a grant from somewhere.
- We have been advised by multiple sources that if we want to apply for grants, then we would be better placed if we were established as a Registered Charity - especially given the likelihood that we would be seeking a six-figure sum.
- Theo Todman and Alaric Cundy have attended some workshops put on by Basildon Borough Council, one specifically about the roles of (Charity) Trustees, and the other one specifically about applying for grants. To summarise a two hour session in one sentence: acting as the Trustee of a Charity is not too scary; in particular the potential financial liabilities only kick in if you, or the Trustees as a group, do something outside the terms of reference or commit to some blatantly unaffordable purchase - so long as you can demonstrate that you acted sensibly there is no problem.
- More work remains to be done in this area, specifically researching potential sources for grants, and looking more carefully into the 'whys and wherefores' of Charitable Status
- One point is clear, however: we will not make ANY tangible progress with grant applications and / or seeking to be a registered Charity unless we become a more robust and coherent organisation. This idea has been expanded on the 'Operation' page.
PROPOSED MEMBERS' LOAN SCHEME
- If we want, one day, to buy anywhere, or indeed, if after all, we take on a lease / rent and still have significant start-up costs, then we are bound to need to top up with loans from members, and perhaps from others.
- A draft scheme was drawn together, and the views of an experienced accountant were sought, as a result of which the version available at this location has been published. COMMENTS FROM MEMBERS ARE SOUGHT URGENTLY
- Some key points to highlight are:
- People who loan us money do not have to be members of the club. That point as absolutely key, as it unlocks some potentially closed doors
- The idea of offering a fixed annual dividend to loanees is a reasonable approach, though the rate offered could not be firmed until a specific proposal had emerged
Seeking a grantWe have held the view all along that the 'Purchase' option for the premises would only be viable if we were able to secure a grant. We may even need a grant to follow the 'long term lease' approach, because the set-up costs still be over £10,000 possibly. We have the following recent activity under this heading to report:
- We have acquired a list of possible funding sources - see this list
- We have started working through that list, so far without the greatest of success:
- Veolia Environmental Trust - we fail their basic geographic test: our project needs to be within 5 miles of one of their centres
- Lloyds TSB Foundation†funds local, regional and national charities working to tackle the disadvantaged across England and Wales. Some of their grants run into tens of thousands, but our project would not be classified as 'helping the disadvantaged'.
- The Co-operative Community Fund in many ways looks like an ideal target; however the typical grants that it awards are very small scale, typically up to about £1,500
- The National Lottery mostly supports the development and promotion of the Arts; however from it we were referred to The Big Lottery and the Awards for All Lottery Fund.
- The Big Lottery and the Awards for All Lottery Fund: one or other of these two could be right, but we have not yet worked out how to categorise any bid we might make; we would need an agreed constitution before we could get anywhere.
- Members and visitors are cordially invited to comment, e.g., using the Comments Pad or by e-mail - see the 'Your Views Count' link above - if they know of other possible funding sources. We'd also welcome any volunteers to work through the list and to tell us if they find an approach that looks promising.
- Theo Todman and Alaric Cundy have booked to attend a workshop entitled "Writing Funding Applications".
Charitable StatusWe have received some useful supporting material from the EBU, which we are currently studying.
Posted 15/11/2012These notes are based on comments received as part of the visit / phone conversation with representatives from Southend & Leigh Bridge Club on November 9th. See the comments posted on the 'meetings' page posted on 15/11/2012 for further background. Note that many of these points would be relevant in both the 'buy' and 'lease' models.
- The biggest item of expenditure is for gas and electricity - £2,000 per year. The building is open pretty well every day of the year, morning, afternoon, and evening.
- Another significant expenditure item is for staff - tea servers and cleaners. One of the members organises / oversees the cleaning, but it is not the members who actually do it. The need for tea servers reflects the way they organise their playing and teaching sessions - they have a mid-session break, with tea / coffee / biscuit served at the table; members tend not to use the kitchen directly. [In our own setting we would be unlikely to employ someone to serve the tea / coffee - not in the early days, at least - though we would need to employ cleaners. We would need four or five hours of cleaning a week, perhaps more..? The cost could be about £2,000 per year.]
- Rates are ludicrously low, but may not reflect payments in Brentwood - they get a 50% reduction as a Community Organisation. Rates would likely to be cheaper for a Charity than they would be for a Limited Company.
- They also have water and telephone bills. [In our own setting, we might consider adding Broadband to the Telephone.]
- Maintenance and repairs are organised by one of the Committee Members, whose day job qualifies him well so to do; the work is paid for by the Club.
- Security is clearly something we'd need to give thought to.
- The majority of the club's 330 members have 'come up' through their teaching schemes, and the individuals were typically aged 60+ when they first learnt the game. Most of them have no interest in entering Essex or EBU events, and therefore they get very little benefit from the EBU. [Comment: something to consider in the future: whether we should follow the practice of some other clubs and openly go "two-tier" - with some EBU-affilated sessions and some not, which would save more than 40p per player for P2P in exchange for not awarding them Local Points.]
Posted 26/09/2012Following a series of recent meetings / conversations we concluded that:
- Do not under-estimate the cost of start-up, even for rented premises. E.g., kitchen, carpet, chairs, air-conditioning, ...
- Ground floor rented accommodation can cost upwards of 50% more than the same space on a higher floor. Downstairs vs upstairs is important - though lifts can help - but other matters of alleged convenience may not be. For instance, a hut in Billericay Hight Street may well be deemed to be in a premium location, while for our members, most of whom travel miles anyway, a cheaper hut in Roman Road, Mountnessing is just as convenient.
- Some rationalisation of table money charges might be required.
- From a detailed discussion of financial facts, we concluded that it looks as though a rented option could be viable, especially if we could get a few additional clubs on board.
- It was reported that Welwyn Garden City Bridge Club attracted an extra 100 members by getting existing members to put mail-shots through their neighbours' doors.
Posted 07/09/2012 [From the meeting held on September 5th.]
More activity neededWe recognised that we need much more planned activity within the premises if we are to be able to afford to have full rights to it 24/7. We agreed a multi-pronged approach:
- Teaching Sessions:
- Alaric to approach existing teachers to see if they would have interest in running sessions at the organisation's premises
- Club members to be approached to see if anyone would be interested in becoming a 'Club Teacher' following the EBU model, which offers free / subsidised teacher training, and well researched and tested Teaching Materials. Action on club chairs to ask throughout their respective clubs, additionally Alaric to emphasise the request on the website
- Longer term, and especially if the project assumes a 'Community Initiative' direction, seek to link in to local schools, possibly by picking up ideas currently being developed by the Essex Contract Bridge Association
- Attracting the interest of other local clubs:
- Alaric to draw out the list of potential clubs highlighted in earlier discussions; all group members then to reflect on / update that list urgently
- Theo / Alaric to draft "the message" to put to those clubs
- (Primarily) Theo / Alaric to visit those clubs to test whether our interpretation of 'the problem' is shared / recognised by those clubs, to explain what actions we are contemplating, and to assess their level of interest in joining or supporting our project
- Eric had reported that one of the clubs on the list had already given a favourable response
- Social Bridge:
- We know that a large number of people engage in Bridge socially, and it would be great if we could attract 'Social Bridge' circles into the organisation.
- A specific starting point would be to seek to attract interest from the many people who attend the twice-annual Charity Bridge Drives held at Mountnessing Village Hall, the next one of which is believed to be scheduled for late September. A refinement of "the Club's" message, as above, would be used as the basis of a brief talk to participants, assuming that permission was obtained from the organisers.
- We could, for example, assess what interest there might be in a monthly 'Bridge Drive'.
- Alaric to raise with the convenor when he is approached about the next event
- If we get agreement, a group member will attend the event for 10 - 15 minutes, probably during the lunch break.
Rent or Buy?
There is still a feeling that it would be better to buy rather than to rent, though at first sight, the 'buy' option looks to be unrealistically optimistic. Alaric outlined some reasoning that suggested that though the working estimate for purchased premises would be about £400,000, the actual cost to club members might be reduced to about £100,000, especially if the organisation was established as a 'Community Project'. The current club membership of the four clubs is believed to be about 250; if that could be increased to 300 or more by bringing more clubs into the project, then we would be looking to raise an average of approximately £350 per member, either through a share issue or a loan. That is still an optimistic expectation - but not totally 'make-believe'. For these reasons, the 'buy' option is not yet ruled out.
Initial thoughts and questions
The Starting PointSuperficially, the funding just "doesn't add up" and we would have to be (very) creative. We have two basic options: buy or rent. One critical issue that could / would affect either option is the question of the legal standing of the Club. One option would be to seek to establish the Club as a Charity, or otherwise as a 'not for profit' limited company, with its shares owned by its members, and its Directors elected at an AGM each year. In Law, a Charity or a Company can own a property or sign a lease, but an ordinary club or society cannot.
None of us believes in 're-inventing wheels', so an early action would be visits / discussions with other clubs that have already been down this path.
General IssuesIf we owned or leased our own premises then clearly it would be ours seven days a week, morning, afternoon, and evening - that is 21 'slots' every week. Additionally, our favoured premises would include a large playing area and a smaller seminar / teaching room, and if we were to achieve that, there would be a total of 42 'slots' available per week. The four clubs meet on four evenings between them, and at that level of activity within the premises there would be no chance at all of achieving Financial balance. Some of those slots would need to be kept free, eg for planned maintenance, such as cleaning, and for repairs, such as changing light-bulbs and the like. It is probable that we would need to fill at least 50% of the available slots to have any chance of breaking even financially, and therefore there is a substantial task to be done to identify or develop extra (income-generating) activity. Possibilities include
- Teaching sessions - the main driver for this project, so that is key.
- We should look to establish day-time sessions, perhaps 'instantly' by persuading additional clubs that already meet during the day to join this project.
- It might be possible to sub-let the small room for private matches
- It might be possible to sub-let the main room (when not in use by the club) for ECBA events.
BuyThe starting estimate for 'buy' would be about £400,000 (which is of course totally unaffordable), but which potentially could be reduced to something that could be within reach., such as via the ideas listed below:
- Most of the clubs that have their own premises have started with a slice of apparent luck that reduced their initial cost, e.g., courtesy of inside knowledge, both the two Southend clubs acquired premises at bargain prices, and the much-hailed Stamford Club in Lincolnshire started by being given a plot of land on which to build by the local Council. We have offers of help from Bob Hair, and the close links with the Chair of Mountnessing Parish Council could be exploited
- Something like a rural barn might be cheaper to purchase, and possibly it could be converted into suitable accomodation for a Bridge Club. Some obvious snags are the likely relative inaccessibility, car-parking, and the likelihood of a lot of wasted ceiling space that could both increase running costs and complicate repairs and maintenance. However, the idea is 'on the table' and worthy of exploration.
- The comments received through Mountnessing Bridge Club included three suggestions for sites that might be available at low cost and where a purpose-built club house could be erected. All three sites are probably optimistic, but "if you don't ask, you don't get".
- Potentially there are grants available from the Lottery, from Veolia, and from the Rural Development Council. Many of these grants are on a matched funding basis.
- Grants are easier to secure if the organisation is set up as a Charity and if the project can be described as a 'community initiative'.
- However, even courtesy of grants, gifts, and below commercial rate purchases, there would still be a significant financial gap, possibly of around £100,000.
- That money could be raised through a commercial loan - but that would be very high risk, and such an approach might not secure much support.
- The obvious alternative is to follow the precedence of other clubs and seek loans from members. The realism of such an approach needs to be tested, whilst bearing in mind that any members who contributed a loan would expect preferential treatment in return.
- There is a very big bit of work to be done in this area, but the £400,000 opening estimate may not be an impassable hurdle.
Rent / LeaseThe starting point for the 'rent' option would be 'what could we afford to pay?'
- At the moment the four clubs collectively pay about £6,500 / £7,000 in annual rent (check / verify). We might be able to top that up by encouraging other clubs to join the fray, or by adding in contributions from operating surpluses - perhaps we could get it up to £10,000 per year. What accommodation would that sum get us?
- If that value proves to be completely non-commercial, then we would need to generate additional activity within the club in order to increase income, such as, through the ideas listed above
- The idea of seeking to use some of the 'Community Space' that it is reported will be available in Brentwood Town Hall is certainly worthy of exploration. One snag is that the idea has perhaps emerged too early - we are unlikley to be in a position to commit within the timescales that Brentwood District Council may be expecting
- Two strong points that discourage the rent / lease option are:
- The rent would undoubtedly run into thousands per year; effectively that is money that could be spent on repaying loans that is in fact just 'heading down the drain'
- We could be at risk from a sudden rent 'hike' that could be enough to destabilise the club
- An obvious advantage of the rent / lease option is that the original outlay could be much more manageable
- There would be other start-up costs additional to the premises per se: for example, though between us we probably / possibly possess sufficient tables, cloths, boards, etc to get off the ground, we don't actually have any chairs, and doubtless several other vital things would need to be purchased
- The clubs currently pay for things like heating, lighting, and repairs through the room hire charges.