Great Yarmouth Mercury Business Column

Johnathan Cage, Create Consulting Engineers Ltd, Norfolk Chamber President

Charities must be run as businesses in order to survive in today’s highly competitive commercial world. The good will of sponsors, donors and volunteers that kept them going in years gone by just isn’t enough today, and balance sheets, cash flows and business plans are as important to small charities as they are to big corporations.

I’ve gained a real insight into the pressures and challenges that charities face as chairman of the board of trustees at Great Yarmouth’s amazing Centre 81. You’ll have seen their fleet of mini buses buzzing about the town and will probably have bumped into members enjoying themselves at the bowling alley, theatre or pub.

Formed more than 30 years ago and based in Tar Works Road, Centre 81 has two principal functions. It provides a skills and activities centre for more than 70 members with disabilities that vary in severity and complexity. Although they can socialise at the centre and enjoy activities like painting, cooking and IT, many of them get out and about to go sailing, visit restaurants and hit the shops, transported by our fully-accessible minibuses.

Those vehicles also provide a door-to-door community transport service for more than 700 local people who are disabled, elderly or don’t have access to other forms of public transport. It’s a lifeline that allows them to get to the supermarket or doctor, and to enjoy social activities like visiting friends or going to the cinema.

It’s a great charity, and a pretty complex business. Income is generated from commissioning agencies, membership fees, fares, sponsorship, donations and legacies, while costs include staff salaries, buying and servicing vehicles, and maintaining a set of old and somewhat dilapidated buildings.

Like all good businesses, Centre 81 has a plan. And quite an ambitious plan at that.

It has outgrown its present site and is looking to move to a new location that will enable it to help a greater number of disabled people to get more out of life. We’re looking to not only expand the skills and activities centre but provide a whole new range of services for Great Yarmouth, including supported living accommodation for disabled people and fully-accessible holiday units for people with disabilities and their carers.

We are currently looking at all the options for developing Centre 81’s activities, including opportunities for relocating to a larger site and the funding that will help us create a landmark project that will not only enhance the lives of disabled people living in our borough but the entire community.

Providing fully-accessible facilities doesn’t just mean installing wider doors for wheelchairs. Centre 81’s aim is to develop a centre that can be used by everyone in the borough – other charities, community groups, able-bodied and people with disabilities. It will attract new members and, perhaps more importantly from the local economy’s point of view, it will create more full-time and part-time jobs.

It’s a big challenge, but businesses thrive on challenges. And so do charities like Centre 81.

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