Collaborating in the community – 422 Manchester
Back in the summer of 2021, the Oglesby Charitable Trust was introduced to a local organisation that needed capital funding for a community centre refurbishment in Longsight. This case study describes how philanthropic funding can work alongside a range of corporate partners, to provide more comprehensive support than any group can provide alone. It also details the benefits to individuals and businesses of working across sectors.
For years, various community organisations were keen to develop Longsight Youth Centre but the huge task of renovation always outstripped funds, skills and resources. Originally built in 1850 as a Public Library and Hall – providing important education and cultural programmes – the building eventually became a youth centre before funding declined and finally dried up. It then stood empty for a decade, rapidly declining and falling prey to squatters.
That was until 2019, when a local group called Manchester Vineyard conceived a plan for the venue to bring it back into full use. Eventually, after strenuous fundraising, they managed to acquire the building. They renamed it 422 Manchester, and began restoring it for the community.
The request we received at the OCT was for funds for the installation of a lift. Our support would match those of a national funder and unlock access to the spectacular event space on the first floor, as well as the ancillary rooms alongside, allowing for the next phase of overall works. Without our funding, the pledged national funds could not be claimed and the building’s potential would not be realised. We were impressed by the ambition and ‘can-do’ attitude of the group, and the prospect of freeing up funds and space was appealing. Longsight is a richly diverse, multicultural area but is underserved in terms of amenities the whole community can access. We believed our funds could have an impact – but we also believed that the project would require more than funding.
Calling on the experts
After early site visits, we concluded that, as a Trust, we could only commit to the project with expert support guiding us. We needed advice on the installation, and secured this via lift engineering consultants Lecs UK. They agreed that some adjustments might be in order, and advised that it would be worth getting another view on the scheme.
We approached our corporate partner Bruntwood, ostensibly for value engineering support for the lift. Cameron Higgs, Senior Quantity Surveyor, stepped forward and agreed to not only check the initial construction and cost supplies but also to sense-check the process and decision making to date. He concluded that there was little to do in terms of value engineering per se – the design team had done a good job – but there remained other ways in which he could help.
Bruntwood’s contribution was initially expected to be ‘light touch’ QS services, but grew to include cost planning and development of the project’s procurement & tendering strategy. Lecs UK had already put the tender package together for the lift, with the main works yet to be tendered. Even at that early stage, as Cameron from Bruntwood put it: “John Bentley from Lecs was worth his weight in gold – his expertise, contacts and knowledge ensured this element of the project ticked all of the boxes and was as commercially effective as possible”.
Although the lead charity had received valuable, quality advice from the outset of the project, the early professional input from Bruntwood and Lecs UK formed part of our due diligence process at the OCT. The enhanced commercial efficiency and accountability added value to our funding, and key additional wins helped further: getting the lift package agreed early and the price fixed provided crucial cost certainty in a time of intense economic volatility. Recommendations regarding high specification glazing saved an estimated £15,000 and introductions to yet further suppliers and experts, including Amspec, who ultimately delivered the project, provided a meaningful package of support that our funding could not have stretched to alone.
Amspec are also committed to working alongside non-profit organisations, in line with their own company’s purpose, and their reflections on the project can be found here. Both they and the charity experienced a few “bumps in the road” but both agree that the evident impact on the community made the hard work worthwhile.
Personal support of charities is familiar territory for many of us, and that is true for Cameron, who has been involved in past employee volunteering at Bruntwood. However, Cameron says that his experience at 422 Manchester was different – from the outset, the idea of supporting the community by making the space accessible to everyone was hugely appealing. He got to see first-hand some of the vital community work in action at 422, including NHS clinics, playgroups, Bollyfit class and many other important activities. He has also witnessed the building serving a community in crisis: rising numbers of food pantry customers are being welcomed, and a little dignity restored.
Cameron believes there is something particularly satisfying about bringing his specific professional skills to a project where they added so much value. Moreover, as a QS, he relished working on such an old building: “Bruntwood’s known for repurposing buildings, but I’d never normally get the chance to work on a building of that age.” It helped that he was able to incorporate this project into his working day. “It wasn’t an extra burden on top of the day job; it was part of the day job.” As a Trust that is keen to support cross-sector collaborations, we know how vital it is that non-profit projects are treated on an equal footing with their commercial counterparts.
Commercial vs non-profit constructing
The uniqueness of this project was both appealing and challenging. The building’s age presented various issues and delays and as the client was a charity, with budget constraints, goodwill was a key factor in keeping on track. The multiple partners involved made for some complex relationship management but, ultimately, being a non-profit project made no difference: the right contractor and procurement strategy remained as crucial as always, with the project being fully tendered to Bruntwood standards.
From the outset, as a Trust, we were on the verge of committing funding to this project and were simply looking for some assurances. Now, after nearly 18 months and a cross-sector project partnership, we have shared knowledge and combined resources to deliver a full tendering and procurement process, provided expertise on elements such as damp proofing, renewable energy and critical health and safety risk management, and supplied repurposed, new sanitaryware from a nearby Bruntwood building. Somehow, even the creation of a car park found its way into this ‘lift project’ too…
With the project now complete, the local community is already making wholehearted use of their new space. Meanwhile, at the OCT, we have been reminded that by sharing our resources – and access to resources – we can collectively provide a far greater difference in the communities we serve. At a time when funds are under significant pressure, and the need for support in our communities is rising, this combined approach is becoming a more central and natural pillar of our philanthropic giving strategy, and one that ensures we can achieve more together than we can through conventional funding alone.