When you care about something, it's hard to let go. I just cannot let go of the Farncombe Day Centre, because I fear for its long-term future.
When I first became aware of the budget shortfalls I was quite shocked that measures had not already been put in place. My first suggestion was to start engaging more with the local community, to create a sense of pride and ownership. My hope was that by showing more people in Farncombe and Godalming what the day centre can provide for older people, it would generate more regular users of the centre, more volunteers and more donations. I also suggested joining Twitter, Facebook and setting up a new website - all of which would make the day centre more 'visible', but also more competitive. We all know that every pound donated to charity is someone's hard-earned cash, and the day centre had to show that it had earned your support and generosity.
Grants from the Council and Age UK had been slashed. New, harsh rental and facilities agreements have been implemented, ensuring that the day centre will pay its way to the council and council tax payers. The end result is a gloomy shortfall in operating budget. The day centre management team for all its other faults, have at least been prudent with savings. Excellent fundraising by the Friends of Farncombe Day Centre and some generous legacies have swelled the savings accounts. But no amount of shuffling funds around can disguise the fact that every time an older person attends the centre, it costs £16.
Think about it. £16 a day to provide a warm, safe environment for an older person. It hardly seems a lot. But that amount is set to rise, with the implementation of the new, tough financial regime imposed by Waverley Borough Council.
Now, I'm not suggesting that the day centre should be entirely funded by grants from public funds. In fact, I'm suggesting that the Farncombe Day Centre should be a social enterprise. A hub. A community space. A partnership. A place where diverse groups of users are welcomed to the centre, contributing to the revenue, generating more users and volunteers, a thriving place. And all this making sure that Farncombe Day Centre will continue to provide high quality engagements with older people who enjoy a hot meal, companionship and activities.
The ideal situation would be for the day centre management team to cover the operational costs (including staffing) through a sound, revenue-generating business plan. Grants should be applied for, to provide diverse programmes of activities. I also see opportunities for a food bank, an after school club, or other much-needed community facilities. Evening and weekends could also offer opportunities for small business or social enterprise organisations, groups or societies to meet. By offering this meeting space, the day centre would be increasing its network of partners, who in turn will be generating their own revenue streams, some of which will flow back to the day centre, creating a mutually beneficial, sustainable operating environment.
My case study on the long term sustainability of the Farncombe Day Centre is available by email.
My previous posts on Farncombe Day Centre:
Disclaimer: The author was a member of the Farncombe Day Centre Executive Committee from February to December 2013, and was asked to step down following a disagreement with the Chairperson of the Committee, relating to the budget shortfalls and identifying such publicly.