Confederation of Community Groups – Ballybot House and An Storás - shared premises

This case study outlines the process undertaken by the Confederation of Community Groups in the development and establishment of shared premises, Ballybot House and An Storás, which it leases to 19 voluntary and community organisations in Newry.

Organisational Details


The Confederation of Community Groups (CCG) is an umbrella organisation for voluntary and community groups in the Newry and Mourne area. It offers advice, practical support, services and training through a number of projects and services. Its work is funded by the District Council, government departments, and a variety of independent bodies.

About the premises


Ballybot House is the first custom built multi-purpose community resource centre in Northern Ireland and comprises 25,000 square feet of office, retail and conference facilities. Due to the demand for premises, CCG applied for the Modernisation Fund in 2008 to knock down its small annex and provide more facilities in its new An Storás building. This addition to Ballybot House has now been functional for 16 months and is at full capacity and currently there are 19 voluntary and community organisations located within Ballybot House and An Storás.

Reasons for developing shared premises


Part of the ethos of Confederation of Community Groups (CCG) is to support other voluntary and community organisations and, through establishing the social enterprise of Ballybot House and An Storás, the organisation offers competitively priced units to voluntary and community organisations. There is a discount for the groups on conference and seminar facilities, as well as on other resources such as photocopying and faxing.

There was a demand in Newry for centralised premises from which voluntary and community organisations could operate. The location of Ballybot House and An Storás is ideal: central to Newry and also next door to a health village which makes referrals to a number of the resident organisations.

“The location is great, based in the centre of Newry and next door to the health village. Many of our service users use the health village and our tenants get a lot of referrals from there.”
Raymond Jackson, CEO,
The Confederation of Community Groups

Organisations located in the shared premises

As stated, the Confederation of Community Groups owns Ballybot House and An Storás.  It also owns and operates the resource centre within Ballybot House and provides venue hire and back office support for voluntary and community organisations. The premises house CCG’s own projects: Neighbourhood Renewal, Older People’s community projects, Good Morning and Good Neighbour, Volunteering and Reach programmes, while renting out office units to a range of voluntary and community organisations including:

  • Alzheimer's Society Newry & District Office
  • Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB)
  • Community Restorative Justice
  • Early Years
  • Belong NI
  • Fold Housing Association
  • Homestart Newry & Mourne
  • MS Society
  • Newry & Mourne Women Ltd
  • Prospects
  • Newry and Mourne Senior Citizens’ Consortium
  • Volunteer Now
  • Action Mental Health
  • Cedar Foundation
  • Mencap
  • Newry and Mourne Mental Health Forum
  • Reach Project (SHSCT Programme)
  • Advice NI
  • Talk it Over

In addition, CCG rents units to several commercial businesses, including the Blue Print Pizza Company (its anchor tenant for 15 years), LABAS (an EU food outlet which has a tenancy agreement for two years) and People First. CCG has also recently embarked on an additional social enterprise opening its Community Store (August 2012).

Process


Once an agreement has been reached with a potential organisation, a tenancy agreement is signed outlining terms and conditions. This includes paying three month’s rent in advance.

“We want organisations to stay here without having to cause financial strain which is why we do not ask for big deposits like private landlords do.”
Raymond Jackson, CEO,
The Confederation of Community Groups

Due to the current funding situation within the sector, most organisations that are allocated space in Ballybot House have a tenancy which is renewed on a yearly basis. In An Storás, however, the tenancy agreement is for three years. This is because the space was designed and developed in partnership with the resident organisations (Action Mental Health, the Cedar Foundation, Prospects and Mencap) to ensure all their requirements were met. As a result of this, organisations had to commit to a longer tenancy. An advisory committee was made up of CCG and the three residing organisations to help with the design of the building. 

As part of the tenancy agreement, the Confederation of Community Groups is responsible for the maintenance of the building, for caretaking duties and also has a ‘meet and greet’ facility for clients entering the building. Post is also collected for all organisations and franked where necessary.

In addition to an outline of the tenancy agreement, organisations are also made aware of other benefits including the use of facilities within the resources centre for a low charge. Other benefits outlined include the reduced cost of venue hire.  Organisations receive a 10-15% reduction on conference facilities, interview and counselling rooms (a fraction of the price of Canal Court).  Free car parking is also offered to resident organisations, however this is provided on a first come first served basis.

What has worked well


The shared premises of Ballybot House and An Storás has worked extremely well. One of the main advantages of this shared space is that since occupancy levels are very high (100% at An Storás and 95% in Ballybot House), the social enterprise is financially sustainable and the benefit to organisations is that this continued sustainability keeps their tenancy costs at a very competitive rate.

The tenants’ forum has also been hugely beneficial to resident organisations.  It has provided them with a platform to develop strong links and to refer to each other when clients’ needs are identified.

“The meetings have created a lot of synergy here, especially when we built An Storás.  The three organisations there have developed very strong local links.”
Raymond Jackson, CEO,
The Confederation of Community Groups

The Confederation of Community Groups has taken a flexible approach to the renewal of tenancies due to the current economic climate.  Tenancy rates have not been increased in over four years to ensure that organisations can continue to meet the costs of tenancy. In addition, CCG has developed processes which will allow it to reduce rent on a short term basis for organisations waiting on confirmation of funding. This reduces the burden on organisations that are waiting for funding to come through.  Once funding has been received, the difference in rent is made up.  The advantage of this is that the organisations located in Ballybot House who find themselves in an uncertain funding position appreciate the benefits and are committed to stay within the premises.

“We are very flexible and do not treat our tenants as a private landlord would, we are non-profit making and all revenues contribute to sustaining our community projects. We treat our tenants right and want them to stay here.”
Raymond Jackson, CEO,
The Confederation of Community Groups

The low costs of venue hire and the resource centre have meant that organisations can use the facilities at competitive rates. This has been viewed as helping organisations to be sustainable.

The meet and greet function of the reception has been beneficial to all tenant organisations. It provides a friendly and welcoming entrance to the facilities and a shared platform for direct calls.  While this is one of the advantages of being in shared premises, organisations are encouraged to establish their own direct
telephone lines.

“The reception is staffed by the Confederation and is used as a ‘meet and greet’ for all organisations but generally we ask tenants to establish their own direct telephone line so as not to clog up CCG’s main switch-board.”
Raymond Jackson, CEO,
The Confederation of Community Groups

Another factor which has worked well is the diversity of organisations located in Ballybot House. In addition to offering tenancies to voluntary and community organisations, units are also rented out to commercial businesses.  The result of this is that the Confederation has a diverse funding stream and is not solely reliant on funding from voluntary and community organisations. This contributes to the social enterprise’s overall sustainability.

Challenges


This example of shared premises has been one that has faced few challenges. For the most part, occupancy has been high and management has been able to attract numerous voluntary, community and statutory organisations, as well as retail business, to the location.

The main challenge for operating these shared premises is that of implementing new technology in an older building.  Ballybot House was renovated 15 years ago and new telephone lines were installed. However there was not the need for internet or other IT connections that there now is. The Confederation has since introduced Wi-Fi into certain areas of the building which can be accessed by all tenants. While this remains an issue for Ballybot House, An Storás was renovated in 2011 and each unit there has up to date internet access. 

“Most of the difficulties we have are logistics such as telephone lines and the IT required, whereas when we opened Ballybot house 15 years ago there was the need for electric cables but not for all the Wi-Fi and other IT resources.”
Raymond Jackson, CEO,
The Confederation of Community Groups

A further challenge has been getting new retail businesses into the premises.  In the past 12 months Ballybot House has lost two commercial tenants and has seen a decrease in the revenue it generates through this means. Currently there is one unit available and while CCG is using it for events and other activities, it hopes to rent out the space as a retail unit to add to its financial sustainability. However, management believes that in the current economic climate this may be challenging.

Advice

Raymond Jackson, the CEO of CCG, advises that when establishing shared premises it is important for the lead organisation to ensure that services offered by partnering or resident organisations complement each other.  While he believes that this is not essential, he feels that the interaction and synergy between organisations can make sharing premises a success.

“So many of the organisations here link in with each other; there is a lot of synergy which doesn’t come overnight, but takes years of on the ground work.”
Raymond Jackson, CEO,
The Confederation of Community Groups

Other key advice is that organisations thinking of building new premises for the purpose of sharing should consider the current climate. He believes that the difficultly in gaining bank support such as loans can hamper these efforts.  During the developing of Ballybot House and An Storás, CCG was successful in securing funding from sources such as IFI, the Big Lottery, DSD (through the Modernisation Fund) and others which were essential for the success of the development; however Raymond feels that these resources may not be as easy to access in the future.

 “I don’t think this moment in time is the right time to undertake a project like ours because of funding restraints, cutbacks and the current economic climate.  It may be a time to share services or amalgamate but, unless funding has already been secured, it is not a good time to undertake new building. We have been fortunate in securing lottery money and Modernisation Fund (DSD) but I’m not sure these will be as available going forward. We could not have done it without it.”
Raymond Jackson, CEO, The Confederation of Community Groups

Other advice is that organisations should only take on premises that are suitable to their needs and easy to rent out. If the premises are too big, the risk is that organisations might be left with unoccupied units and need to cover the cost of these which could eat into their own resources.

“With bigger premises there are economies of scale, but if you get too big you might not get the tenants you require or if funding is cut you may not get the rent you need.”
Raymond Jackson, CEO, The Confederation of Community Groups

In addition Raymond advises that shared premises should not be limited to only voluntary and community organisations. As a social enterprise CCG offered some of its units to retail businesses, private companies and statutory bodies to diversify its income stream. He feels that this is especially important at a time when voluntary and community organisations are facing funding uncertainties; longer leases with retail business ensure more sustainability of income. While this has worked well for CCG, Raymond acknowledges the challenges that organisations may face in attracting retail and statutory bodies within the current economic climate.

“The retail sector has become volatile and it can be hard to attract those businesses.  In the past we had statutory bodies in Ballybot House but as with our sector they have reviewed their working environment and moved back into statutory premises.”
Raymond Jackson, CEO, The Confederation of Community Groups

Every effort is made to ensure that the contents of this document are accurate, but the advice given should not be relied on as a definitive legal statement.

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