The Open Doors Consortium
The Open Doors Consortium gives advice and support to community groups in Newcastle thinking of taking over buildings from the city council.
Asset transfer – taking over the management of a community building previously run by the council – can be a tricky process for a community group. The Open Doors Consortium was set up in 2013 to help groups in Newcastle to take over their community centre buildings from Newcastle City Council.
Independent asset transfer advice
The Open Doors Consortium (ODC) is made up of five organisations, all with a diverse but complimentary range of skills and experience: lead organisation Ouseburn Trust, Newcastle Council for Voluntary Service (NCVS), Locality, Boxx Consultants and Sustainable Enterprise Strategies (SES).
The group was commissioned to provide independent advice and support to voluntary management bodies considering the multiple asset transfer of community centres, owned by the council.
The ODC was selected via a procurement process. It was initially commissioned to provide voluntary and community groups with ‘pre pre-feasibility’ support for asset transfer. The specification for this work was actively shaped by the voluntary and community sector.
However, due to the positive impact of the work the contract has been extended twice to allow the ODC to support community organisations throughout the asset transfer process.
The Open Door Consortium’s first aim was to transfer the building to the community organisation based there – but in the event they weren’t interested, and with their agreement, other community groups were invited to bid for the building instead. The building would be transferred on a long lease, at no cost, with the community organisation taking responsibility for external and internal repairs.
The core of ODC’s support is one-to-one work with individual community centres around their long-term plans, management and viability of the centre. Each centre works with a named individual from Ouseburn Trust, Newcastle CVS, Locality or SES. As property specialists, Boxx Consultants helped management committees to understand information about the condition, repair and management of their building.
- ODC has supported communities to understand what asset transfer means and identify their strengths and weaknesses in relation to this. ODC has enabled and empowered them to make informed decisions about the future of their community centre and how, if asset transfer is an appropriate option, to take this forward. Independence has been vital to this. Ongoing support includes facilitating peer support and exploring new partnerships to deliver efficiencies, for example groups coming together to explore commissioning of statutory testing.
- ODC developed an innovative ‘diagnostic tool’ which helped organisations identify areas of strength and improvement.
- ODC, in partnership with NCC, co-designed the second stage of NCC’s process for considering the appropriateness of asset transfer of community centres. Both partners worked together to explore a fair and flexible process.
- The process was not prescriptive about the format of information required to support an asset transfer. ODC supported one group with the innovative submission to NCC of a DVD.
- The lead organisation within OCD has secured funding from ‘Awards for All’ for a digital story telling project which will focus on change in community buildings. Community organisations have also been offered access to accredited training in hospitality to support them to increase the usage of their community building.
ODC’s support kicked off with two briefing sessions and provided training sessions throughout on, for example:
- understanding a lease
- governance and incorporation
- viability, accounts and earning income
Three major positives
Three major positives in Newcastle City Council’s approach to asset transfer are:
- holding disclosure meetings at the start of the process with groups considering community asset transfer. These face-to-face meetings outlined the process and shared information on the physical condition of the building
- viewing planned closure as a positive outcome. So ODC has supported organisations which decided that they lacked interest in or capacity to take an asset transfer to go through a positive closure process. This has included all the legal aspects of the closure plus looking to move their users to other locations
- being clear from the outset that it would only transfer to incorporated organisations, allowing ODC to work on this with individual centres from the outset.
The city council has said publicly that ODC’s contribution has significantly and positively exceeded the specification for this work.
The council sees the ODC approach to working in partnership as being extremely valuable. The council, the groups managing community buildings and also Newcastle’s communities having greatly benefited from ODC support and active shaping of the asset transfer process.