The Carlile Institute
As I write this (April 2015), nine months have passed since Kirklees Council formally transferred the Carlile Institute in Meltham into community ownership.
At the time of the transfer work was already underway on the refurbishment of what is now the community-owned Post Office. Plans and thoughts about what to do with the remainder of the space were on-going, all funding reliant of course!
What we regard as phase 1 – the Post Office area and updating of a large hall designated for community use – cost the Community Interest Company, formed to manage the property, just over £130,000. Over two floors, this is 351sq ft from a total of 788sq ft. Of the remaining space a further 167sq ft is designated for community space, the remaining 270sq ft was earmarked for commercial use.
VAT: to opt-in or not?
The £130,000 capital investment included 20% VAT, and one item that the Board of Trustees spent a sizable amount of time considering was whether to opt-in to VAT or not.
A major factor within the decision was how easy it is to either raise the 20% in funding from various sources, versus how acceptable it would be to potential tenants and users of the property to pay an additional 20% on top of their room booking.
We spent time talking to accountants and Locality to find any evidence to support either case and to sound out the complexities of having to submit a VAT return each quarter. (We are all volunteers in this project, so committing to undertaking this level of day-to-day admin is not something that should ever be entered into lightly.) In the end, we opted-in to VAT, meaning that we are now tied into VAT recovery for the next 20 years; but we received a ‘refund’ on a large element of the capital works which allowed us to continue with phase 2; the refurbishment of some ground floor office space.
The space had been used as offices when it was owned by Kirklees Council – but it had become tired and a large and unexpected hole in rotted joists and floorboards formed our biggest problem to date.
A total of £33,500 was spent regenerating the space, amending the layout and fixing the underground issues.
Every unit leased within 10 days
In January 2015 we advertised the offices with a local estate agent – within 10 days each of the four units had been leased.
The space is now home to three firms: an accountants, a green energy manufacturer, and distributor and logistics firm from Leicester who have opened a northern office with us.
This has given us a lot of confidence that there is demand for good quality office space in our area and also that the VAT wasn’t so much of an issue.
Broken boiler and no broadband
It hasn’t all gone swimmingly! In August we got our building back. In September we opened Meltham Community Post Office. In January we leased the office space. In March we had a broken boiler, and unavailable broadband and telephone lines for a week. And scheduling cleaners to fit around people using the building, whilst at the same time being a happy, smiley and proactive landlord has been a learning curve to say the least.
It seems obvious to say, but the more people you have using a property for the purpose that you dreamed up a few months previously throws up all sorts of issues that you couldn’t even imagine!
We have got through the last couple of months simply by being around, being visible and aiming to create an air of reassurance whilst trust is built and a relationship between everyone is developed.
Second in the Great British High Street Awards
Our project has not gone unnoticed on a national level either. We were was shortlisted and finished second in the Great British High Street Awards – a scheme run by the Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government.
We have been shortlisted for ‘Community Project of the Year’ in our local evening newspaper’s annual community awards. We had David Blunkett visit in early April and in the election battle between the Conservatives and Labour, our project is recognised as a great asset to the community and the surrounding area. We have also been approached by other people across the country for input on their projects – something we like, obviously!
Busy looking for funding the next phase
Our next phase of work is now at the planning stage, and we are busy looking for funding for it. The next phase will see the remainder of the property renovated to make it more of a single building, incorporating a lift and joining together two properties that make up our project.
That’s the first nine months covered…you can have a baby in that time!
Written by Richard Noon @hashtagmeltham