Tag Archives: asset transfer

YMCA Plas: A vision for a better Roath

How do organisations develop a strategy for a community asset? Dyfrig Williams visited YMCA Plas (formerly Plasnewydd Community Centre) in Roath to find out.

A photo of YMCA Plas

YMCA Plas

Throughout my recent posts on asset transfer, I’ve visited organisations that have gone through the asset transfer process and are now on the other side. My final visit was a bit different, as it took me to an organisation who are developing their business plan for the site. I went to see the YMCA, who have taken on the old Plasnewydd Community Centre building on a leasehold basis for a hundred years from Cardiff Council. They are looking to redevelop the site, and originally wanted the building on a freehold basis to make the most of it.

Like all the other asset transfers in this series, it wouldn’t have been able to take place without working closely with the council. The transfer comes with an agreement for 25 years rent-free, without which the YMCA would not have been in a position to take the asset transfer forward. This has given them breathing space, and enabled them to put the right building blocks in place to encourage growth.

The price of property in Cardiff made it difficult to find suitable premises, especially with the huge increase in the area’s student market. But now the deal has been done, the move will enable the YMCA’s Youth and Community arm to get out from under the homeless remit that YMCA are widely connected to in the area.

The council didn’t want to restrict how the YMCA makes use of the site, but it has stipulated that it must maintain community usage. The Local Authority deliberately didn’t tie the YMCA into a restrictive agreement, and the only other condition is that they can only sub-let 33% of the site. The YMCA maintained throughout the negotiation process that they would be unable to take on the staff through TUPE, as they didn’t have the capacity to do so.

What is the strategy for YMCA Plas?

As the lease for the building is so long, YMCA Plas needs to be multi-use, so that if circumstance change the building can still be functional. Fewer and fewer people have been coming to the building as it’s been earmarked for closure for quite some time, so the YMCA are currently running events to re-engage the community, and are looking to consult on its future.

The aim is for YMCA Plas to be a community hub for local groups and people in the area. They want to develop a sport facility with space for a gym to generate income, which will give the centre a health and wellbeing focus.

The organisation are also developing a childcare strategy and a nursery. There is a lack of affordable childcare in the area, which they’ve identified through working with Communities First. Not many people know that the YMCA is the biggest childcare provider in UK, which the organisation can draw on to take this part of the plan forward. They are also looking to rent out rooms where possible and to rent spaces to organisations whose purpose aligns with their aims and objectives.

The entrance to the building is on the side of the street, so the organisation is looking to move the entrance so that it focuses on footfall from the street. This will clearly show that it’s open and accessible to the public, instead of relying on people to go down the side street.

Lessons learnt

Throughout the process the organisation focussed on the council’s timelines, which meant that the focus wasn’t always as intense on their own requirements. As staff were not transferred over to the organisation, embedding new staff whilst taking over a new facility was a big challenge. This meant that they couldn’t hit the ground running in the way that they would have liked, and the transfer involved so much work it was difficult to focus on what was going to happen afterwards. However the core message in the short term has been to maintain the current business, which doesn’t pay the bills but does contribute to it. Because of effective planning they are able to soak up the immediate losses whilst the business plan is being developed. The challenge now is for the organisation to continue to run the business whilst developing a path forward.

A vision for the future

I’ve lived in Roath for the past few years, and it’s a vibrant and diverse place to live. I’ve given blood at the centre a few times, but I must admit that I haven’t made the most of the facility that’s been on my doorstep.

The area has lots of people living side by side, but who aren’t always integrated. I’m all for anything that brings people together in the area, and I’m excited to see how the YMCA make their vision for the community centre into a reality by involving community groups and the people of Roath.

Bridgend Town Council: A better building, and better democracy

The Town Council’s move into the old library building at Carnegie House has helped to reinvigorate local democracy in Bridgend. Dyfrig Williams visited the Council to find out more about the new building and how it’s also being used to give a boost to the arts in the town.

A photo of Carnegie House

Carnegie House

Until their recent move, Bridgend Town Council had been based in the former Bridgend Urban District Council’s offices at Glanogwr. In 1987 the offices were converted into elderly persons’ units and the Town Council moved out into the newly vacated former Ogwr Borough Council’s Architects Department (also at Glanogwr), where they remained until January 2014. But when their tenancy agreement was coming up for renewal, the time was right to make a move. With serendipitous timing, Bridgend County Borough Council’s library moved to a shared facility with other resources. The Town Council embraced the opportunity to move to the centre of town and in to the heart of the community.

An external group was also looking to provide an arts centre for the town at the same time as the Town Council moved into the Town Centre. Carnegie House has much more space than the previous building, so the Town Council decided to develop the ground floor into an arts centre and to use the first floor to home the town council.

How did they do it?

A photo of the Town Council Chambers inside Carnegie House

The Town Council Chambers at Carnegie House

The Town Council obtained the building on a freehold basis for £1, which meant that the County Borough Council were able to offload an unused building. It also meant that the building was kept as a community facility, which the Town Council was able to make the most of after it held a consultation evening to hear from the community about what they wanted from the project.

The Town Council recognised that it would have been impossible for the full council to take responsibility for the move, as it would not have been able to be responsive to the changing events and requirements. So they set up an independent group of 6 councillors as a relocation group who dealt with all aspects of the asset transfer.

A good relationship with Bridgend County Borough Council was key to the transfer’s success. The County Borough Council often went the extra mile during the process by providing assistance through their conservation officers, architects and surveyors. This positive relationship also allowed the Town Council to take over the building under licence in the first instance. This meant that what they would’ve paid in rent was used to refurbish the building. The Town Council wouldn’t have been able to afford to do both, so this reciprocal approach really helped the process.

The collaborative approach between the two councils also meant that the Town Council could make the most of the County Borough Council’s service level agreements for things like maintenance. The County Borough Council already has agreements in place, ones which the Town Council would struggle to match due to its scale. This means that the Town Council gets better deals and can, for example, use the County Borough Council’s telephony and intranet systems.

Heritage

A photo of the town bell that was donated to the Town Council with clippings about it

The bell  from the original town hall that was donated to the Town Council

The Town Council have made a concerted effort to revamp Carnegie House in keeping with the history of the building. They’ve adopted Edwardian colour schemes and worked with the County Borough Council Conservation staff to develop the space. They have also had items donated to them from the community, including the bell from the original town hall in the 18th century, and a memorial board from a local school, for which the Town Council held a dedication ceremony. Previously there was no community space for civic events as there was no town hall, but now local people are actively engaging with the council to help preserve and remember their history.

The Town Council itself has also grown, as its location within the town centre means that there’s much more awareness of its work. The relocation has been the catalyst in getting the Town Council further into the public domain, and now members of the public are observing Town Council meetings on a more regular basis. The expanded facility has also meant that the staff team has expanded from 1 person to 4 part-time staff. This increased staff capacity is important as it’s come at a time where the Town Council is taking over more non-statutory services.

The Arts Hub

The Town Council applied to the Arts Council of Wales for funding to work on the ground floor. The first year’s programme of activity ran from March to November 2015. By the end of that time, around 1700 people had attended events in the hall, including poetry nights, concerts and jazz nights. Last year’s programme was trial and error, but this year the Town Council will be building on what it’s learnt by running a series of events with both Jazz and Classical music.

Some extensive work is taking place as the building itself is a listed building. They’ve received a Heritage Lottery grant (with match funding from both the Town and County Borough Councils) as the stonework has crumbled, and the old artificial ceiling is being stripped back to improve the acoustics. The Town Council has also bought a PA system, and they now have a website up and running for the first time.

What does the future look like?

So the future looks bright for the Town Council, and any surplus made from the Arts ventures will be ploughed back in for equipment and to invest in the programme. As the adult and community learning provision has disbanded, the Town Council is looking to develop independent classes on arts and culture (like sewing, painting and ceramics) as an opportunity for local people to get involved with the building.

I learnt so much from my visit to Carnegie House, not least the importance of being flexible and thinking outside the box. It’s obviously an incredibly labour intensive process, but by working in collaboration with the County Borough Council, the Town Council have been able to make the most of the opportunities that have come their way from the asset transfer. In a time where resources are so tight, it’s great to see organisations working together to make sure that they deliver the best possible public services for the people in their area.

The Muni Arts Centre: An asset transfer driven by the community

The closure of the Muni Arts Centre in Pontypridd prompted an outcry, which in turn prompted a community led bid to take it over. Dyfrig Williams visited the thriving centre to find out how it’s progressed since the asset transfer.

Chris Bolton wrote a post a while back about how annoying your citizens can lead to community action. It’s a thought-provoking read about how closing a community asset can lead to a strong public response, and that public services can build on the strength of this reaction.

It was fascinating to see how that has happened at the Muni Arts Centre, where a grass roots campaign to save the centre and develop it sprung from the decision to close its doors by the council.

Background

The Muni Arts Centre

The Muni Arts Centre

There was a huge outcry when the decision was made to discontinue the Muni Centre from council cultural services. 150 people attended a consultation event on the future of the building in the space of a couple of hours. A number of groups wanted to make sure it stayed open, and a number of companies expressed an interest in making the building a base for their business. Artis Community, Pontypridd Town Council, Cylch Cymreig and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust came together as the Muni Working Group and quickly formed the newly incorporated Muni Arts Centre Limited. They built on their similarities and strengths to develop the bid, which is remarkably similar to the Assets Based Community Development approach on the Nurture Development site that Chris references in his blog.

In terms of building on the strengths within the community, there’s no better place to start than with the board itself. Taking control of a building like the Muni is a huge responsibility, but the Muni’s board members are well placed to do so and to put strong governance processes in place. Jon Huish, a former councillor, has a great understanding of council processes and the public sector. Alun Taylor of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust specialises in governance. Rob Hughes, the Chair of Cylch Cymreig, runs a festival in Ynys-y-Bwl, and Gethin Williams, Chief Executive of the Town Council is also a Solicitor. Wendy York, the Chief Executive of Artis Community was responsible for much of the groundwork, has extensive experience of the arts and strong voluntary sector networks.

The council faced criticism from the community over its initial decision, and the asset transfers it had previously dealt with were on a much smaller scale. They were clear that they wanted to help the process and created an enabling grant fund. They took a risk in choosing to transfer the asset to the community, when a private sector development would have clear commercial benefits. It’s an example of decision making that focuses on the long term, and it’s the kind of approach that public services will have to show has been considered under the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

The community

With such a strong board, it would be easy for them to do what many other organisations have done over the years and use their own individual visions as a roadmap for the Muni. But the business case was based on the vision of the 150 people who attended the consultation event. It is rooted in the community, with the Muni as a hub for the regeneration for the wider area and the arts’ place within it.

A photo of the Think Food Life café inside the Muni

The Think Food Life café at the Muni

The café at the Muni is a social enterprise called Think Food Life, which focuses on people’s health and wellbeing by providing nutritional food. It’s the first café in Pontypridd that can cater for specific dietary requirements, and it aims for 80% of its food to come from local sources. There was interest from Merthyr and Valleys Mind to set up an allotment to provide vegetables for the Muni, and the idea was strengthened by the Muni Project veteran’s group, who proposed work on garden land at the Muni with potential support from the allotments society. The Muni has received funding from the Armed Forces Community Covenant Grant as the recruitment centre used to be next door, which provides opportunities for veterans to take part in the Muni’s work, be it through volunteering or directly in the arts.

A Fit for Life project will also look to connect health and fitness work to the nutritional focus of the café, which shows how the Muni is looking to go beyond a strictly arts focus and be a hub for the entire community. The Muni is also looking at bringing organisations together at a strategic level to enable people to do more for themselves through working with Pontypridd YMCA and the development of the Courthouse, which will support the startup and growth of social enterprise.

Passion

This all shows what is possible when projects are based on the passion and talent of the community. The building itself is really impressive, just like the drive and determination of the board and the community members who’ve put in such incredible effort to make the project a success. If you’re looking to transfer an asset to the community, it’s worth asking how can you genuinely work with the community and build on their strengths?

Gwesty Seren: Effective asset transfer and a new way of providing respite care

As we live in challenging economic times, it’s likely that a lot of voluntary organisations and Town and Community Councils will have community assets transferred to them. Dyfrig Williams visited Gwesty Seren to hear the lessons learnt from their community asset transfer and how they deliver respite care.

We are often signposted to examples of good practice, but it’s not so often that we hear about a project with good practice to share for a few different reasons.

We went to Gwesty Seren, a hotel based in Gwynedd that offers supported holidays, to learn about how it’s been transferred successfully to the community. But I also had a broader interest in how they’re providing respite care in a very different way.

The charity’s work

Picture of Gwesty Seren

Gwesty Seren

Seren is a charity that is based in Blaenau Ffestiniog, which provides care for people with learning difficulties. The charity was founded 20 years ago under Care in the Community, with the aim of supporting people to move out of institutions and into the community. People create craft and art, which is then sold in the shop and market garden. This helped people to be independent so that they didn’t rely on fees from Gwynedd Council or private individuals, and it also gives them a chance to get a taste of work. This mentality has continued at Gwesty Seren, where they provide work experience.

Gwesty Seren decided to go further than standard respite care. They wanted to provide a different kind of care, so they created a 3 star hotel with a focus on supporting disabled people. The toilets and rooms have been developed so that they are accessible to everyone.

The hotel also allows families to stay there. Their research showed that a lot of families have received poor respite care in the past, so they weren’t happy to leave their children’s care entirely in the hands of someone they didn’t know. The hotel allows them to stay with their children if they want, but whilst also giving them the break they need. This unique service means that the hotel also provides spaces for people who receive services from nearby councils, like Conwy and Ceredigion, with families even travelling to stay from across the border in England.

The success of the hotel has led to it working with three companies that specialise in holidays for people with learning difficulties, and recently, two further companies that specialise in holidays for physically disabled people began using the facilities. The people who have stayed there often end up coming back and making a block booking.

A photograph of a room at Gwesty Seren

A room at Gwesty Seren

The history of the building

The building itself was originally built by Lord Newborough in 1728 as a summer house. It stayed like this until just after the First World War, when the family took in soldiers who had had an accident or shock in the war to have a break or respite.

In the 1930s the building was given to two Franciscan Monks. They invited homeless people to stay, with the youngest monk travelling to London to invite people to stay at Bryn Llywelyn, as it was called at the time. Then the building was sold to Meirionnydd Council as a residential house for children, before being turned into an old people’s home. In 2010 the Council decided to close it.

Seren made a bid for the building to the Welsh Government and the Big Lottery Fund’s Community Asset Transfer Fund. A full application was submitted, before the work began in 2013. The work was completed in April 2014.

Transferring the building

Usually the transfer of assets from the public sector take place free of charge, but in this case, the council decided to sell the building at less than the market price. The council had to go through committees and raise awareness through the media, so it was not a quick process.

The cost of everything, including the purchase, was around £1,000,000, and applying for grants was a laborious process. Because it required a significant amount, the charity went on to borrow from the Charity Bank.

They were aware that questions would be asked about State Aid, so the charity hired a Cardiff law firm that specialised in it. A report was written on minimising the risk and the document showed the rationale for why it did not break the rules. It was a great help when working with European Officers and the Welsh European Funding Office.

Key messages

So one of the main message from Gwesty Seren is that asset transfer isn’t a quick process. But it’s clear by looking at the comments on their TripAdvisor page that the hard work has been worth it. And from the testimonials of other customers (whether it’s directly to the hotel or in a newsletter), I can see that their respite care that has a big impact on people’s lives, has helped the regeneration of  Blaenau Ffestiniog by creating 10 full time jobs and is actively contributing to the area’s tourist industry.

Neuadd Ogwen: The Swiss Army Knife of Music Venues

Neuadd Ogwen, a community hall in Bethesda, has been transferred to the community. What can other groups learn from its flexibility and success? Dyfrig Williams went to find out.

As someone who loves live music, it’s been heartbreaking to see so many venues closing. I grew up in Carmarthen, where the Parrot closed (and has now fortunately re-opened after a successful crowdfunding campaign), and even in my new home of Cardiff venues like the Barfly closed due to lack of funds. If venues face problems in a city like Cardiff, what chance of survival do they have in a small town like Bethesda?

Well as it turns out, the chances are pretty good. Neuadd Ogwen has made the most of a Chairman and staff who are passionate about the culture of the town. And when we visited, the hall was getting set to host Sweet Baboo, Welsh Music Prize nominee and darling of 6 Music.

The Background

The venue has been a community hall for over 100 years, and in that time it’s been used for several purposes, including selling animals and concerts.

Picture of Neuadd Ogwen

Neuadd Ogwen

A couple of years ago the Tabernacle made a bid to take over the hall and make it a professional venue with good lighting, whilst focusing on the needs of the local community. As we’re living in a time where public funds are scarce, it’s likely that several voluntary organisations and Town and Community Councils will find themselves in similar situations.

What happened

Dyfrig Jones, the Chairman of the Tabernacle, did all the groundwork by taking care of the paperwork that made the dream into a reality. And although the building is now open, there’s still a lot of scope for the hall to host a wide range of projects. I spoke to Dilwyn Llwyd, the Hall Manager, about how they have made the building available for as many purposes as possible.

Firstly, they identified potential sources of income, because more activities means more use by the community. They created a questionnaire to source ideas and identify members of the public that might want to volunteer – about 50 as it turns out. The next step is for these volunteers to be fully trained, on food safety for example, so that they can boost the hall’s income by making as much use as possible of the cafe and bar.

The inside of Neuadd Ogwen

Inside the hall of Neuadd Ogwen

The results of the questionnaire also helped create the hall’s programme. People have brought their own ideas (like yoga) to the hall. There is also a market once a month, kickboxing, events for the elderly, concerts and Cawl a Chan (‘soup and song’) nights, as well as one-off events like birthday parties and weddings.

The hall also acts as a cinema – they show 3 films a month. Children’s films are especially popular, as the nearest cinema is quite a distance away. All of these activities increase the number of visitors, and the high footfall ensures that people are aware of what is happening on a regular basis. And of course because this is a community project, all the profit is re-invested back into the hall. The venue has a target of being open for 100 hours a week, which is ambitious. But it helps the staff to focus on how they can promote the use of the hall for the benefit of the community.

Staffing

It was interesting to hear how Neuadd Ogwen have made the most of the Jobs Growth Wales scheme to boost the capacity of venue staff. The scheme has allowed them to employ two members of staff to do the marketing, administration and to look after the facility. This has enabled Dilwyn to focus on the hall’s programme and the day to day management.

So the hall is not just looking to survive, it’s set to thrive. And because it’s looking at all the needs of the community as a whole, it is well placed to do so. I’m looking forward to seeing a gig there next time I’m in the North.

Asset Transfer: Everything you need to know

What were the key learning points from WCVA’s Asset Transfer event? The National Assets Working Group reflect on the day.

Asset TransferThe Asset Transfer event organised by the WCVA was a day of learning for all of us involved in community asset transfers – community groups, local councils and members of the National Assets Working Group (NAWG). For us in NAWG, it was an opportunity to engage directly with groups taking part in community asset transfers.

Setting out our stall

Sharing a stand with colleagues from the Welsh Government responsible for the Protecting Community Assets consultation, we brought our lifetime supply of Community Asset Transfers in Wales – A Best Practice Guide. By the time Lyn Cadwallader, Chair of One Voice Wales recommended the guidance, all copies of the English language version had gone (luckily, the internet never runs out!)

Our Welsh Government colleagues also offered up copies of their consultation on Protecting Community Assets (closing date 11 September 2015) – please have your say.

Opening Speeches

Jane Hutt AM, Minister for Finance and Government Business, outlined the Welsh Government’s support for community asset transfer and took questions from delegates. One question from the floor (with no easy answer) asked about funding for feasibility studies for community groups looking to take over community assets.

After the Minister’s speech, there were two speakers from the social enterprise sector; Louise Barr from Monwel, discussed their expansion as Wales’ largest signage manufacturer. The second speaker, Dinah Pye, from Cynon Valley Museum outlined their story in negotiating with Rhondda Cynon Taf council to re-open their heritage museum. She outlined the challenges arising from originating as a pressure group, then morphing into Trustees of the facility; namely that they had the correct skillset for the future and the importance of getting expert advice at the right time on contracts and employment law.

Workshops

We were as keen to learn from the event as we were to engage with people and attended different workshops to gain some coverage of the issues being discussed. These included DTA Wales’ workshop on establishing viability of the community enterprise/ service – exploring how if an asset wasn’t viable, then it could become a liability.

Empower delivered an interesting workshop on developing an entrepreneurial culture within the team – stressing the need to be clear in target setting for outcomes; transparency on why that was necessary (how much money would be required each month to stay viable); and the need for everyone involved to own the solutions. There were also some sobering examples of poor management and cost control, bringing charities to the brink of insolvency.

There was a lot of emphasis given to the need to be as prepared as possible – business plans, employment law and TUPE were mentioned as recurring themes.

Representatives of Unity Trust Bank (an ethical and social bank) and the WCVA funding programme talked through how and when to access the funding available to social enterprise and community groups for both the initial community asset transfer and following that, any capital investment that might be needed. The message to take away was that loan finance can actually help attract other grant funding as the bank welcomes being part of match funding with other funding partners. Applicants should not be afraid to consider a range of funding streams and be prepared to think outside the box. There is plenty of advice and help available, be brave they said!

Geldards talked delegates through the legal issues that can present when groups and individuals take up the challenge of pursuing an asset transfer. They helped navigate the potential steps from a germ of an idea through to a full incorporation as a charitable or social enterprise organisation, focusing on how the risk of personal liability for an asset can be managed.

Logos of organisations that contributed

Organisations that contributed to the conference

Reflections on the day

The event presented much needed access to information and professional advice, which can be provided by contacting the WCVA on their number: 0800 2888 329.

Whilst the work of the NAWG is focussed on the Welsh public sector, with the spotlight on community asset transfer, it was useful for us to discover the experiences of delegates, first hand. This will inevitably inform our work in this area and practically speaking, inform the development of our website and future guidance work. Engage with us at assetscymru@wales.gsi.gov.uk.

Transferring assets to the voluntary sector

At the Good Practice Exchange we try to ensure that events we’ve held aren’t the end point for any topic we work on. We try and share ideas, resources and perspectives to hopefully start some conversations and encourage people to identify opportunities to improve their work.

We didn’t have long to wait before the first piece of practice was shared on Twitter during our Making Better Use of Public Assets seminar, as the Communities First Advice and Support Service got in touch to let us know about some interesting work that’s taken place in Cardiff to help a community organisation to take over an asset.

I was keen to learn more about it as it fitted neatly with Richard Davies’ workshop, which looked at the support needed by voluntary and community organisations to ensure a successful transfer. I spoke to Gareth Kiddie, who worked as a consultant to an asset transfer in Pentrebane, and Michelle Powell of ACE (Action in Caerau and Ely) who supported the process.

At the seminar Richard spoke about many of the challenges facing community organisations, with capacity being a key issue. Community organisations rely on volunteers, so it’s no surprise that Gareth said that the Competitive Tender process was a barrier to asset transfer, rather than an enabler. Gareth instead suggested supporting the organisation from an early stage so that they have access to the right knowledge and expertise and a real opportunity for success.

Gareth also highlighted the issue of capacity in a different sense, in that TUPE was also an issue for community organisations. Small voluntary organisations are not normally in a position to offer the same terms for staff as the public sector. Again, working with the community organisation at an early stage helped them to overcome this.

Richard Davies of GAVO / Richard Davies o GAVO

Richard Davies of GAVO

In my phonecall with Michelle, she mentioned the importance of flexibility to the process. The building was going to close imminently, but an expression of interest to the council meant that the organisation was given a license to occupy. This license gave Action in Caerau and Ely an opportunity to work alongside the organisation. This meant that they were able to build up a series of activities, which in turn helped them to put a business plan together and better forecast costs.

Michelle also mentioned how continual communication between the council and the community organisation was vital as both organisations knew where they stood. Communication has improved since the council appointed a dedicated officer, which will aid the process in the future. It’s also great that a Stepping Up Toolkit for developing and managing services and assets has been put together. I think the language used in the toolkit is great – it’s easy to get to grips with, which is a massive help as the process itself can be complex.

Public sector organisations are going to be under financial pressure for some time to come, so it’s likely that more assets will be transferred to voluntary and community organisations. It’s vital then that we learn lessons from each other’s approaches, so that we can ensure the best possible use of these assets for communities around Wales.

Dyfrig