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Strutts Community Centre

On this page are two excerpts from business plans drawn up for Strutts in the early years. They provide background to, and an insight into, the Trustees' approach to the project. The words used here carry a lot of implied meaning which is specifically expressed elsewhere in the charity's documentation. We use the word 'community' in the most inclusive way.

The Project

The Guardians of Strutts (GOS) is a Charity company limited by guarantee, formed to own the former Herbert Strutt School, in perpetuity, for the benefit of the Township of Belper. It will restore, develop and manage the former Herbert Strutt School buildings as a mixed commercial and community centre. This dual use will enable the community activities to be effectively subsidised by the commercial ones, by means of an appropriate pricing structure for room hire and leasing. The balance between the uses will be adjusted to maintain financial viability, with a bias towards community activities. The Charity has broader objectives, so that it could take on other similar social enterprise activities, and may also use any surplus funds and assets for exclusively charitable purposes to promote community activities.

The management of the Centre is carried out by a wholly owned subsidiary of the GOS Charity, called the Strutts Centre Limited (SCL), which is limited by shares. All surpluses from the operations are covenanted to the GOS.

A supporting, “Friends”, group, called “Belper Strutts Society” (BSS) has been formed, which may become a charity in its own right. There has been an enormous amount of support received from its members. There is a particularly high level of interest shown by ex-pupils and staff of the old schools that used the site. The BSS will continue to make a major contribution to the Project, and help sustain it through the difficult early years. The BSS is the primary source of volunteers essential to the success the Project.

BSS is not restricted to ex-pupils as the previous paragraph seems to imply but is open to everybody. Further, as the project has grown, BSS is not the only source of volunteers who help run the project. The Trustees will always be very grateful for the help that has been given and will be given to the project; this is particularly true for those who helped in the difficult early period.

“The Belper Strutts Community Project” is the overall title for combining the efforts of these three organisations. The main aim of the Project is to create a sustainable community asset as a legacy for the benefit of the township of Belper, in accordance with the intention of the original benefactor, George Herbert Strutt. The process of establishing this community centre will provide a social focal point for the Town and help build the community itself. The journey for the community is just as important as the destination. The Site is now known as “Strutts”.

The specific aims of the operational plan are:

  • To respect the covenant placed on the gift of the school to the DCC in 1909.
  • To maintain the buildings and undertake sympathetic restoration in its original style.
  • To provide facilities for the community.
  • To create a community based organisation to carry out and manage the Project.
  • To retain the site for the benefit of the people of Belper.
  • To develop the building for a mix of community and commercial uses.
  • To create a sustainable and financially self-sufficient project.

The Plan

The basic operational plan for how the buildings and site will be developed progressively can be considered in three distinct stages. The timing of these stages will depend upon funding and will be scheduled as appropriate opportunities arise.

With the opening of the lift allowing access for all to the first floor I believe we can say we are into the third stage of the plan. Progress with the plan has been at a slower pace than originally envisaged mostly due to a reduction in available major grants, the smaller than expected volunteer group and the complexities of applying for Lottery funding.

Stage 1 happened very quickly but stages 2 and 3 have, and will continue, to run in parallel for a number of years.

Stage 1 - “The Initial Occupation” – Year 1

The main aim of this Stage was to get groups using the site to generate income, but, at the same time with the minimum of expenditure. This process has helped to identify the needs of the community and establish how best to convert the site for its new uses.

Stage 2 - “Development and Promotion” - Year 2

The people of Belper need to understand the aims of the Project and how they can benefit. During this Stage Strutts will be promoted as a major centre for community and commercial activities. Works will be required to adapt the site to meet the new demands placed upon it.

Stage 3 - Restoration and Expansion – Years 3 to 5+

This will require significant grant funding to restore the building to its former glory and to sympathetically provide new facilities for its new uses. DCC estimated that the building required £1.4M for repairs for continued use as a school. As the site is progressively restored and new facilities are provided it will become a major focus for community life in Belper. Stage 3 will be planned in detail in parallel with the first two Stages.

    The fundamental aims of the financial plan are four fold:
  1. To achieve break-even by covering operating costs entirely out of operating revenue.
  2. To use any operating surplus for facilities improvements.
  3. To fund major capital expenditure and renovation from grants.
  4. Not to borrow against the assets to ensure the security of ownership of the site.

This plan assumes that the overall Project has a timescale of at least 100 years, and hence we can take the long view that everything does not have to be achieved in the first few years.

The GOS still needs to obtain funding in order to implement the early parts of this proposal. Various essential repairs still need to be undertaken to stabilise the structure, particularly water ingress. Specific, mandatory Health and Safety requirements must be met, for fire, gas and electrical systems. Security of the site needs to be improved. All this is required to make the site a safe and secure venue for all its users and volunteer staff.

In later years there may be permanent paid staff to help run the centre and be responsible for daily operations. However, in the early years, paid staff would pose an impossible financial burden on the Project. To date, unpaid volunteers have successfully run the site, giving freely hundreds of hours each month.

Financial viability will require careful management of cash flow and this will ultimately determine the timing of the various Stages. A key factor is flexibility, and, as it is a long term Project, we do not have to achieve every thing in the first few years. Any surplus profit will be reinvested into the Project for the benefit of the community of Belper.

    Of the fundamental aims (above) we believe the following can be said:
  1. Successfully achieved.
  2. A slow start but now being achieved.
  3. Only one major grant received - not good enough!
  4. Achieved so far but requires continued vigilance.