The story so far

1        Background

The Christian church has had a presence in Biggar since the 12th century, and the current St Mary’s church (the last pre-reformation church building in Scotland) was completed around 1650. With the popularity of Christian worship in the 19th century, other church buildings were constructed, most notably the Moat Park church, and the Gillespie church. Congregations there embraced variations on the protestant theme, but gradually boundaries were healed, and with falling attendances, the three congregations merged – first into two, and then one. The Moat Park building was sold to the Biggar Museums Trust, but the Gillespie Church building remained the property of Biggar Church.

Around 1980, an initiative by the then minister, Cameron Mackenzie, resulted in the conversion of the Gillespie building into a community centre. This was made possible by fund-raising in the community, and the support of many local people. Biggar church agreed to provide the building for a “peppercorn” rent, and to continue to maintain the external fabric, as a form of outreach, and service to the community. This partnership arrangement is stated on the signage outside the Gillespie Centre.

After more than twenty years of use, the interior of the building was becoming tired, and it was agreed that there was potential to improve the facilities. After considerable consultation and research, plans were approved, and funding from various external sources was secured. Local fund raising again contributed significantly to the overall cost. A condition attached to some of the external funding was that an independent charitable trust be created. Thus, the Gillespie Centre Association was constituted, and formally registered with the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR).

A further piece of the jigsaw was the establishment, in 2001, of a 25-year lease, whereby Biggar Church and the Gillespie Centre Association agreed that the Association would continue to have full use of the building, but with responsibility for all internal repairs and maintenance, and that the Church would continue to maintain the external fabric. As landlord, the Church is also responsible for insuring the fabric of the building. The lease agreement between the Gillespie Centre Association and Biggar Church could be changed, but only with the agreement of both parties.

2        Governance and accountability

The Gillespie Centre Association is a formally constituted, Registered Scottish Charity. As such, the constitution is required to state its “charitable objects”. These are:

to promote the benefit of the inhabitants of Biggar and its environs without distinction of sex, sexuality, political, religious or other opinions by associating the local statutory authorities, voluntary organisations and inhabitants in a common effort to advance education and to provide facilities in the interest of social welfare, for recreation and other leisure-time occupation so that their conditions of life may be improved.

In furtherance of these objects the Association shall:

(a) create a facility for the local residents that will promote the health and welfare (both spiritual and physical) of the said residents and

(b) ensure that these facilities are maintained and upheld

The Constitution states that “Full membership of the Association shall be open to all residents of the town of Biggar and surrounding District who are interested in furthering the work. and taking part in the activities of the Association and who have completed the necessary registration particulars as determined by the Association.”

The Constitution also states that “The policy and management of the affairs of the Association shall be directed by a management committee which shall meet not less than six times a year and shall consist of not more than eleven members, one of which shall be the current Minister of Biggar Kirk.”

The Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 places a duty on the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR) to encourage and assist charities such as ours to meet the requirements of charity law.

As a Registered Scottish Charity, the Gillespie Centre Association is accountable to OSCR. The members of the “Management Committee” are charity trustees with defined legal responsibilities, and must provide annual accounts and information about the way in which the Association operates and uses its resources. In practical terms, the “Management Committee” is a board of trustees, all of whom are unpaid volunteers. The committee does not manage the centre on a day to day basis; it makes strategic decisions, employs the Centre staff, and provides support and guidance to them.

3        Operation of the Gillespie Centre

Over the years, the Association has been heavily supported by volunteers. It has also variously employed administrators, catering supervisors, kitchen staff, and cleaners. These have included full and part-time posts. All staff have been properly trained, and, where necessary, have appropriate qualifications, and certificates of competence.

Most recently, we have had a Centre Manager, with overall responsibility for running the Centre, and a Catering Manager, reporting to the Centre Manager. This situation is under review, partly due to the financial pressures described below. As an interim measure, the Centre Manager role is unpaid, and administration activities are being carried out by an acting operations manager. This arrangement is temporary and is likely to continue for a number of months, until new trustees have been appointed and some strategic decisions have been taken.

4        Recent years – 2014

Well established as a community resource, the Gillespie Centre offered catering and hall hire. The organisation structure – a small number of part time paid staff, and a pool of volunteers – had enabled the Centre to remain financially viable, while still maintaining competitive pricing. Annual financial results had fluctuated between a small surplus and a small loss, and overall the operation had maintained a break-even position.

The Church had almost exclusive, rent-free, use of an office within the Centre, which provided a convenient central and accessible point for its administrative activities. The Church also made occasional use of the Centre for meetings, such as the induction social for the new minister, weekly prayer meetings, and monthly evening services. Over time, the relationship between the Church and the Gillespie Centre Association had been cordial, and mutually cooperative.

When the lease between the Gillespie Centre Association and Biggar church was established, the church was committed to meet its obligations for the foreseeable future. However, by the end of the 2013 financial year, the Church accounts had been in deficit over the previous five years, and although a small surplus was achieved at that point, this led the Kirk Session (the church’s trustees) to look carefully at costs. Among other things, this highlighted the cost of maintaining and insuring the Gillespie building – a total of approximately £4,000 in 2013.

Because of this, a perception had emerged that the church was contributing more than its’ “fair share”, fuelled, perhaps, by a lack of understanding that the Church had always enjoyed free use of Gillespie Centre facilities, and of the (less tangible) value of outreach provided by the Centre.

Because of this perception, and the church’s financial position, various options were considered, to determine how the two organisations could continue to work constructively together:

  • The Gillespie Centre Association could be asked to make a significant contribution to the increasing buildings insurance premium. This would lead to a reduced cost to the church, and increased cost to the Gillespie Centre Association, which (to ensure continuing viability) would be covered by increased charges for catering and hall hire.
  • The Church could pay rent for use of Gillespie Centre facilities, providing additional income for the Gillespie Centre, and addressing the belief that the church is “getting something for nothing”.
  • The lease could be altered, to oblige the Gillespie Centre Association to pay a higher rent, which could offset insurance and maintenance costs. This would, at least, lead to a position, where rights and responsibilities were unambiguous, though there would be costs to both parties. There could be public controversy and misunderstanding, due, in part, to the difficulty of effectively communicating the reasons for change.

While some combination of these options might be seen as fair, the existing informal understanding had been working well for over thirty years. Initial discussions on formalising these arrangements highlighted a risk of re-igniting differences of opinion, which could ultimately result in the replacement of accepted compromise by entrenched positions.

The agreed way forward, at that time, was to acknowledge that there is much common ground between the two organisations, and that each can best achieve its objectives in a spirit of engagement and cooperation, rather than formal, and potentially rigid, contract. The provision of free hall hire and co-ordination of groups from Biggar Kirk, during the refurbishment of St Mary’s Hall between November 2015 and July 2016 is a good example of this engagement and cooperation.

After discussion, it was agreed that any changes in arrangements should only be made in the context of the longer-term plans of both the Church and the Gillespie Centre Association.

Firstly, the Kirk Session (as the governing body for Biggar church) would need to consider how it wants to make best use of all the resources and buildings within its ownership. This topic had not been addressed for many years. It requires time, and careful consideration, which needs to take place before any decisions are made. Proposals cannot realistically be put forward in advance of such decisions.

Secondly, the Trustees of the Gillespie Centre Association would eventually have to consider what options to pursue when the current lease expires on 16th January 2026. While this is not urgent, some early consideration would be helpful in allowing plenty of time for planning. It was concluded, therefore, that, at that time, it was not appropriate to table any proposals for changing current arrangements.

5        2015

Moving forward to 2015/16, there were some changes in the Centre, many of them positive and beneficial.  The new manager had updated procedures, which were now fully documented, ensuring that the Gillespie Centre Association was compliant with all relevant regulation and legislation. A major consultation (about the future of the Centre) had begun, involving Gillespie Centre Association members, users of the Centre, and many others in the community,

At the end of 2015, although total income had risen by 4.5% (mainly due to an increase in catering income) operating expenses had been higher, resulting in a trading loss of £4,752. Increased wage costs were partly due to a change in accounting procedures, whereby all casual staff were now paid through the payroll system. The apparent increase in insurance costs was due to the Trustees’ decision to make a one-off donation to Biggar Kirk, as a contribution to the buildings insurance (which is the responsibility of the church as landlord).

While new volunteers are always welcomed, it has always been necessary to have a balance between employed staff and volunteers. The Centre is thus helping to provide training and local employment, both of which are beneficial to the community.

It became apparent that there were variations in the charges made to different hall users, and it was reported (in the AGM minutes) that the Trustees would be considering how to harmonise hall hire charges over the coming year. It was revealed that, if the charges published in 2011 had actually been applied, the shortfall would have been turned into a surplus.

The trustees were sensitive to the likely impact of a sudden increase in invoiced charges, and a phased approach was agreed. In July 2016, letters were sent to all existing hall users, as follows:

“As you know, the Gillespie Centre is a social enterprise which offers services to many organisations in the local community. We are a “not-for-profit” organisation, and any surplus (of income over expenditure) is re-invested in maintaining and improving the facilities. It is essential that a small surplus is achieved, to ensure the continued operation of the Centre.

Currently, the Centre generates 84% of its revenue from Catering, and 15% from Hall hire.

Our published Hall Hire charges have remained unchanged since 2011, and we do NOT wish to increase these charges. However, as was pointed out at the AGM, some regular users have not been charged at the published rate. This is why, in the last financial year (2014-15), the Centre made a loss of £4,752.

Our first aim is to please our customers. Indeed, without harmonising our fees we may not be able to serve you if the Centre continues to incur losses. Unfortunately, we will, again, be left with a substantial deficit this year, whilst we phase-in these adjustments. We are confident, nonetheless, that you will still find our fees to be quite reasonable and competitive.

We intend to phase in normalisation of our charges over the next twelve months and eliminate any shortfall payments, making all necessary adjustments to existing accounts. 

We do NOT propose to backdate this normalisation. From 1 January 2017, we will adjust charges to reduce the shortfall in payments by 50%. With effect from 1 July 2017 we will further adjust charges, to eliminate 100% of any shortfall.”

6        2016

Partly in response to public debate, it was decided to make a detailed presentation at the AGM on 16 March 2017, to provide the members of the Association with more information about the many issues which have been, and are being, addressed. The following is a summary:

6.1       Regulation and inspection

Several regulatory factors have increased costs to the Gillespie Centre Association.

  • Pensions Regulation Legislation was introduced in November.
  • The Living wage increased to £7.20 (employees over 25yrs) from April.
  • The Centre was obliged to re-register for VAT because projected income was higher than the exemption threshold.

Policies, procedures and risk assessments were introduced, to meet with legal requirements which are signed off by all staff and volunteers.

Revised employee contracts were established, together with inductions, supervision, appraisals  and employee handbook to meet with employment law specifications.

South Lanarkshire Building Inspectors were satisfied that the Centre met with all regulatory standards.

An unannounced inspection from the Trading Standards Officer concluded that current safety practices and service could be categorised as Low Risk.

An Environmental Health Inspection resulted in high praise for implementation of the Food Safety Management System stating that “six months’ work was completed in four weeks”.

Green Network for Business features GCA on their network following inspection of the Centre’s energy saving measures.

6.2       Training

Funding was sourced to facilitate the following training opportunities for staff, trustees, volunteers and the wider community:-

  • Child Protection Training
  • Leadership Training
  • First Aid At Work
  • REHIS Food Hygiene
  • Nutritionist/Dietician
  • Till Training
  • Health & Safety At Work
  • Trustee Roles and Responsibilities
  • Change of Legal Structure
  • Intermediate Food Hygiene

6.3       Volunteer activity and achievements

The Centre has a strong core of loyal volunteers who continue to provide their time and talents week by week.

A volunteers’ charter was implemented, and nomination submitted for Volunteer of The Year with South Lanarkshire Volunteering Awards.

Nan Agnew won a ‘Long Serving Volunteer’ award for her individual volunteering service record of 18 years. She accepted this on behalf of all GCA volunteers. The celebrations took place in Hamilton and were featured in the local press.

Volunteers worked together to deliver three community meal events throughout the year:

  • Queen’s 90th Birthday Cream Tea,
  • “A Bit Of Culture” – part of National Chamber Music Day (with mocktails)
  • Celebration of Diversity in partnership with award winning Taj Mahal and local businesses kindly donated prizes for the raffle.

A young volunteer successfully completed her Duke of Edinburgh Award programme.

The Community Christmas Fayre  2016 featured Tinto Children’s Choir.

The Volunteers’ Christmas Lunch was well attended with special thanks to Dukes of Uke for providing the entertainment.

The Late Night Shopping Event is being developed as a partnership between GCA and Nicola Campbell.

The Lunch Club continues to grow with the support of volunteer Elizabeth McDonald, with musical sessions from Alice Barry and May Cameron.

Carol-Ann Alcorn continues to provide wonderful photographs during our community events

Jessie Duff and Ruth Bryden have enhanced our services with their flair for flower displays

The monthly Bite & Blether (Dementia Café) was developed in partnership with mental health teams and volunteers from the wider community.

6.4       Finance

A charity of this size must invest the time, resources and money in good systems of governance and risk management to ensure that we have a secure financial basis. It is the policy of the GCA to hold reserves equivalent to approximately six months’ turnover.

Investment funding was obtained, for an energy audit report and installation of new heating system with 4 zone temperature controls.

Regulation, competition, increased running costs, building improvements, living wage increases and pensions have created overwhelming financial strains this past year and continue to dominate our sustainability.

Despite strenuous efforts in planning for financial stability, we could end up operating at a loss for reasons beyond the control of trustees. Our challenge is to re-assert the relevance of the Centre in the local and wider community, which in turn will support a surplus from operating revenue to re-invest in the future of the Centre.

6.5       Community consultation

A major consultation exercise was carried out during 2016. The purpose of the consultation was to bring a broad range of local knowledge and experience to bear before any planning proposals were produced.

The consultation techniques included:

  • Questionnaires
  • Forums with key groups
  • Talking wall to engage the general public,
  • Face-to-face interviews
  • Skills for work project with local high school and media advertising

The main issues and needs that local people thought that we should address are:-

  • improve, develop and/or redevelop the Centre, and provide better facilities
  • protect and make better use of the Café and front window
  • provide more and better arts, leisure, social and entertainment facilities
  • improve and extend service provision
  • do more to protect and enhance the built and the natural environment
  • improve employment opportunities

Three major ideas were generated through the consultation

  • Business Hub
  • Retail
  • Craft Centre

An Options Appraisal was produced to assess the feasibility of these ideas and will be complemented by a Business Plan.

We intend to trial several new initiatives in response to the consultation findings and measure, monitor and evaluate these, to determine whether they can provide services and facilities which the community will use, and, at the same time, generate essential revenue.

6.6       Business plan

To position ourselves to best address the needs of the community, which includes planning for sustainability (= survival), we need to make informed decisions and document them within a Business Plan.

The plan is not only required to secure funding,  but is a vital aid to help us manage our charity more effectively.

The plan would detail alternative future scenarios and set goals along with the resources required to achieve these goals. However, these opportunities cannot be funded by cash flow alone, and the charity must seek external funding. There is a lot of competition for available funding, and funders expect realistic applications, with a high level of detail. All prospective funders will require access to recent accounts and option appraisals along with an up-to-date business plan.

In essence the published accounts help funders understand the past, whereas a business plan helps to give them a window on the future.

6.7       The challenge

Sustaining community buildings is difficult due to lack of funding, limited support and the struggle to attract new users and committee members/trustees to help with the running of the buildings. We need your support to continue to provide accessible services to the whole community.

7        Trustees

In order to maintain energy, and bring new ideas, it is widely recognised as good practice to have a rotation of trustees. It is a major concern that, following the retiral of two more trustees at the AGM (in March 2017) the Association is now down to five trustees, three of which have served for more than six years. Terms of office in other well-ordered charities are typically three years, with the option to extend for up to another three years. Being a trustee can feel like a thankless, time-consuming task, and thus requires a good deal of commitment. But in can also be rewarding, in the context of a successful organisation, providing much needed services to a supportive community.

For anyone considering becoming a charity trustee, we would strongly urge them to go ahead and apply. A board needs members with complementary skills.

It may appear to someone outside the charity that it is all about money. It certainly is not. And even when financial decisions have to be taken, ethical standards, efficiency and creativity enter the discussions at every level.

You may be surprised at what you can contribute and discover that you can make an important difference and gain a great deal of personal fulfillment and achievement.

8        Where we are now:

  • The Association faces challenges this year to fund the business plan and proposals, remedial repair work, Biggar Kirk maintenance fee, increased running costs and ongoing training/development of staff and volunteers.
  • GCA trustees are not ready to commit to major high-risk changes, which cannot be easily reversed. Because we are unincorporated, trustees have unlimited personal liability if things go wrong. We are naturally nervous about this, and feel that it is vital that the protection inherent in the SCIO status must be available to us.
  • Following training and advice from VASLan (Voluntary Action South Lanarkshire) we identified and completed preliminary documentation to change our legal structure from an unincorporated body to SCIO (Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation). It is understood that, if we wish to become a SCIO, we need agreement from our Landlord to transfer the current lease to the new legal entity. In return for this, the Landlord requires to make some amendments to the lease, including an increase in the rent from £100 to £6500 per year.
  • GCA trustees do not currently have the resources, skills and capacity to agree and implement major changes. We badly need some new trustees with relevant competences.
  • Specific short term changes, within the remit of the Centre Manager, have been identified, and can be implemented quickly. These will provide a “holding position” for the next 6-12 months, with a strong possibility of both balancing the books, and supporting some staff development.
  • It is hoped that one of more new trustees can be appointed at or shortly after the AGM in March 2017. After the AGM the trustees will take stock, carefully consider the final Just Enterprise report, and initiate development of a Business Plan.
  • This Business Plan will include, or be the basis for, justification for any investment in refurbishing the Centre, to make it more attractive, and fit for purpose.
  • An agreement will be sought with the landlord (Biggar Kirk), which is fair to both sides, and which eliminates any apparent “competition” on hall hire rates, resulting from the desirability of St Mary’s Hall, now that it has been refurbished. This agreement will be the basis for any changes to the lease.
  • The Business Plan will take account of any agreed changes in lease conditions, including rent payable to the landlord, and/or hire charges payable to GCA by the church for facilities which are currently made available free of charge.
  • Once the Business Plan is in place, the proposal to become a SCIO will be revisited, to reaffirm that this is still, in fact, the best legal framework for GCA.
  • In the meantime, the trustees recognise that they do not have the “safety net” of incorporation as a legal entity with limited liability. Understandably, they are nervous about this, and will not agree to change or expenditure which is risky. While the current reserves appear to be substantial, they provide an essential buffer. To manage the obvious financial risks which are due to increased costs and falling revenue, the trustees must, at least theoretically, evaluate the cost of closing the Association, and ensure that sufficient reserves are held to fund this, should it become inevitable (such costs would include repayment of loan, early cessation of contracts, and redundancy payments).