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And then the world turned upside down…

With the publication of their new property research, property advice charity and CFG member the Ethical Property Foundation has never been in more demand. CEO Antonia Swinson reveals how the pandemic is changing property realities for the UK voluntary sector.


Every two years since 2012 the Ethical Property Foundation has asked the voluntary sector about the key trends and needs it faces.

We have seen commercial landlords replace councils as the default landlord and seen a growing awareness of the symbiotic relationship between charitable mission and the premises occupied by staff, volunteers, and service users.

Yet property has never interested people working in the sector – they want to change the world and deliver for their cause and community, not worry about leases or drains. Funders too, have increasingly used project funding to deliver their remit as funding levels fell and so property has been the Cinderella item on board agendas, a cost not an ingredient for success.

And then came Covid and with it lockdown, furlough and social distancing, the new lexicon for a world turned upside down. For the first time, charities have been forced to put property high on the agenda as workplace management could literally cost lives.

During lockdown, the big preoccupations centred on water hygiene, rats and paying the rent. Our 2020 Survey, which took in the lockdown period, unsurprisingly showed one in four respondents say they are now in dispute with their landlords. Yet looking to next year, we will see big changes in the workplace which could also prove to be opportunities as charities take advantage of cheap money and trade up, or negotiate good deals to rent from landlords facing voids on city centre premises.

Our 2020 survey also reveals an enduring fear many charities have that premises are not suitable for the long term. Hence 60%+ report problems relating to the suitability of premises for their operations. 51% believe property issues are a significant risk to their charity’s future sustainability, while very sadly, 45% believe property issues are a barrier to delivering their charity’s objectives.

Respondents also share worries over property costs: 45% have no designated fund for property maintenance and repairs. 44% find the cost and accessibility of professional advice to be an issue and there was a lack of property knowledge and understanding: 47% have no regular reporting to trustees on property matters and 43% have no suitably skilled individual with responsibility for property.

On 1 December, Ethical Property Foundation was delighted to run a roundtable discussion with CFG. The issues we hope policy-makers and funders take note of include how charities need to be included in any discussion in repurposing the high street, social workplaces, and being recognised for our high value knowledge as a viable small business sector in our own right.

As a sector, for far too long we have accepted a lack of a parity of esteem with the private and public sector. Time’s up. Covid has rewritten the rules and shown the overwhelming importance of our sector in keeping society cohesive, invested, functioning and kind, while preventing social unrest. Business needs us. Government needs us. And unless we work in a circus tent or a field, the role of property - socially distanced, cleverly managed and negotiated - is going to be a growing element in all our decision making.


Ethical Property Foundation provides affordable consultancy services and free property guidance and training. See the CFG Members’ Helpline. Download your free copy of the Charity Property Matters 2020 Survey here. Follow us: @epf4charities

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