On Wednesday we held the first of our new monthly volunteer meetings. Twelve people attended all or part of the meeting, including five of the interim board. Ben and Sophie explained the purpose of the meetings, and gave an update on progress since the interim board was elected. At the end there was time for questions and general discussion. Although Ben and Sophie did most of the talking this time, it should be different in future – the GBY won’t succeed long term unless volunteers are willing to take the lead.
Purpose of meetings
Up until now there have been frequent volunteer meetings after the Wednesday volunteer day. These meetings have been about updating those attending about what has happened on site recently, and making plans for jobs that need doing in the coming week. They have mostly been of interest to those involved in gardening or site maintenance/management. In future we want to have a monthly meeting where we look at ALL the jobs needing to be done to keep GBY growing, so that people working in different areas can work together better. This will take place on the first Wednesday of each month at 5pm. Here are some of the volunteer jobs we know about already:
- Media and marketing work – e.g. posting updates to our website and facebook page, photography, press releases, interviews, leaflet production
- Fundraising and campaigning – e.g. sponsored activities, help with planning and running events, leaflet delivery, working with schools
- Food shop – working together with Peterborough in Transition we aim to open a shop that will be open on Saturdays. Volunteers will be needed to help set up and staff the shop. (The shop will initially be selling a range of dried/canned goods that can be ordered from the Suma website, but the range will expand over time)
- On site volunteers – e.g. gardeners, looking after visitors and showing them around the site, looking after the animals, help with site maintenance
The existing Wednesday meetings will still take place as needed for the on-site team. The list of jobs above isn’t intended to be exhaustive. In place of the regular volunteer meeting, on April 2nd we will be holding our initial AGM and electing a new board.
The Green Backyard is now a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation), and is run on cooperative principles. We’ll have a bank account with CAF (Charities Aid Foundation), and will soon be able to take donations on our website. Ben stressed that the council have no plans for developing the site, nor any plans to evict us, and we have strong support from local councillors. Our site has been declared an asset of community value, which means that if the council do decide to sell we have six months to make a bid. The council has a legal obligation to secure best value from any sale, but this has to include social value, and is not just about the price of the land. We have secured £8,500 of funding, which will pay, amongst other things, for an SROI (social return on investment) study.
The interim board is putting together a business plan, which will include a detailed five year plan, with an outline vision for the longer term. The draft version of this plan will be shared with volunteers so as their suggestions for improvements can be incorporated, before a final version of the plan is submitted to the city council in mid-April (after our new board is elected, but before the council elections on May 22nd). The aim is to secure a long-term lease, of at least 25 years. Without such a lease it is not possible to access things like lottery funding, nor for us to put up any more buildings. With the lease, or if we can buy the land, we might be eligible for up to funding of up to £500,000.
The GBY charity will be governed by a board of trustees. There will be between 6 and 12 trustees, at least half of whom will be regular volunteers. To be considered regular, you must work as a volunteer for at least 5 hours per month. One space on the board will be reserved for a city councillor from Fletton and Woodston or one of the adjoining wards. The other places on the board will be open to all (including volunteers). We hope to attract some people who aren’t existing volunteers to join the board: they may have expertise that existing GBY volunteers can’t provide. Board members will be elected for a period of three years, and may stand for re-election only once, but must then step down and take a break for three years. Being a board member doesn’t entail doing any particular job, except that the board has to appoint three of its members to act as chair, treasurer, and secretary. Trustees must look after the long term interests of the charity and promote its objects:
- Helping the economically and socially disadvantaged to learn new skills – in our gardens or through workshops run at the GBY
- Promoting environmental protection
Trustees will meet every two or three months, find out what has been happening, make sure the GBY is financially secure, and that activities taking place there accord with the charity’s objects. The GBY aims to grow quickly over the next five years. Before the AGM we’ll be sending out more information about what is involved in being a trustee and on how to stand. If you have a friend who is not currently involved in the GBY but who you think would make a good trustee then please invite her or him to stand.
The trustees won’t be making decisions about the day to day running of the GBY (e.g. about what crops to plant). Those decisions will be taken by the volunteers and the site manager (e.g. in the regular volunteer meetings).
Sale Process ?
Rich asked what the process was for negotiating the sale/transfer of the GBY by the council to the charity. Ben and Sophie talked about the £8500 grant we have to help us create a business plan and pay for an SROI study. We need this to talk to the council’s budget planners: if we spend £1 on helping a young offender, it might save the city £10 by reducing vandalism. The NEF (New Economics Foundation) worked with the Office for Civil Society to create and audited methodology for performing an SROI. We’re also going to get our own valuation of the site done. The council have told us that the price they have offered us is non-negotioable, but we are ignoring that, since it is based on non-existent planning permission, and does not take in account the amount of land that is blighted by pipes and cabling. The council is legally obliged to get best value, and to balance its books, but has to take account of social value. We are looking to approach the council with a complete package. The council may call in the decision, but we may offer them best value even if we offer a lower price than another prospective purchaser of the site.
Sue asked for more details about the shop and when it would be open. Sophie explained that the Peterborough in Transition food group would be getting it open, and providing volunteers. Sue would be welcome to join the list of volunteers for that: it was hoped that there would be sufficiently many that no one would have to volunteer very often. As well as the orders waiting to be picked up there would be some goods on general sale. These would be at a small premium over the regular (Suma) price, but shop volunteers would be able to buy goods at cost price. Initially the shop will be set up in one of the shipping containers near the main gate. Any profit the shop makes will be reinvested in improving the shop itself and the range of goods available.
Volunteering with health issues:
Melanie asked what possibilities there are for on-site volunteers who, for example, have health issues, which makes it difficult for them to do gardening jobs like digging. She asked about the possibility of volunteering together with a friend.
One suggestion was doing craft work. It might be possible to sell this through Art in the Heart, or a similar shop. Sophie pointed out that it was always good to have someone in the hub who could welcome visitors and answer their questions.
Ben and Sophie then explained how the four days we are open differ: Wednesday and Sunday are general volunteer days and volunteers are welcome to choose any job that is suitable for them. On Wednesday we tend to get quite a lot of volunteers who need support. Thursday is a more targeted day – only a few different jobs will be available, and the work will tend to be heavier than on other days. Saturday is an open day – you can volunteer if you like, but you are welcome to be “just visiting”. In future Saturday will be the shop opening day.
Currently we are only able to open four days per week. We aim eventually to open six days per week, but we will need more volunteers who are able to act as site managers to do so.