The Calthorpe Project is one of the UK’s oldest community gardens. It is also a Community Centre offering plentiful services and activities for local people. The creation of this “inner-city oasis” seeks to improve the quality of life of local people.
The Calthorpe Project was one of the first organisations to sign up to VAC’s energy bulk-purchase network. Here their director, Louise Gates, talk to us about how they have benefited from the savings.
Q. How did you start working with VAC?
The very first relationship was with the salaries department. They do our salaries and they have done for more than twenty years. From there the next milestone was the community centres network which VAC started and was a really good idea. All the Camden Community Centres get together about six times a year to talk about issues we all share and just to get together as a group which led onto the bulk purchasing scheme.
Q. How has VAC doing your payroll made a difference to your operation?
The payroll service means we don’t have to train our staff to run it. It does take a lot of time and expertise and also it’s good practice to outsource certain services to specialists. We’re always being asked about the various polices we have and the outsourcing policies. Usually we don’t do it because it costs a lot of money. But we need to know if everything we’re doing is legal. If our PAYE is legal, our taxes etc. And VAC informs us of all the changes that are coming. If employers National Insurance is changing they inform us. If Camden pays a salary increase they inform us. The specialist advice and provision, that’s the main one – they do all that for us.
Q. What other VAC services do you use?
VAC has lots of people they employ that we can call on if the need arises,for instance, HR. The HR advice we receive is always correct and VAC don’t charge. Things like HR cost an arm and a leg if you want professional advice. They have a newsletter that we use. They have training that we use. I’ve done two units of training in management which I got for free. If I had to pay for it I couldn’t have done it. All our staff receive training from VAC. They do specific tailor made training which is very useful and is either free or very cheap.
So you start with payroll and then find out about everything else they do and you find out that everything they do is something you need. We’ve used pretty much every service they offer.
Q. Which bulk purchasing scheme have you signed up to?
Gas and electricity and we’ve participated in information about insurance and it seems quite reasonable so we’ve been in touch with Paul Bragman and going ahead with that. We’re also looking to take part in anything that we can where bulk purchasing makes things cheaper.
Q. What’s been your savings from the scheme?
From what I recall about the chart on savings if we changed our electricity and gas onto the scheme we’d save about £350 a year without even doing anything so that’s why we went for it. And VAC also informed us that as a charity we didn’t have to pay full VAT which we didn’t know. So we’re getting a refund. One of the reasons our electricity was so high was the VAT issue. We’ve had around £2000 credit, which was nice.
Q. How does a saving like that affect what you are able to do?
If we could reduce our regular expenses like that over a year we would save an absolute fortune. I do the fundraising so that’s always in mind. Salaries are the biggest expense and what I’ve found is funders don’t always fund the entire salary of the post so then you go out to another funder for the rest and five of them might reject you and it might take you five years to fund the post. So if we can cut down on other expenses then our money can stretch to pay some one’s salary because without people to provide the services you don’t have any services.
Q. How would you say your service users have benefited from the savings you’ve made on this scheme?
We don’t charge much for our services but for some we do and they are very very cheap. And it means we don’t have to increase our charges. We have a drop in centre for parents, grandparents, carers etc. and the charge is £1.50 a day or £3 for a week. Now that’s cheap and we’re able to keep the charges low by keeping our costs down. We’re hoping by going into bulk buying we’re able to save more. For instance insurance will save us £1500 a year which is a good savings. I’ve passed those details about the insurance savings to VAC so that other organisations might benefit from it. We’re also looking at telephone services maybe in the future.
To find out more about the work of the Calthorpe Project please visit their website at www.calthorpeproject.org.uk.
You can find out more about our bulk-purchasing networks on our website.