“Charity Bank stuck by us”

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“The property we wanted fell through, but Charity Bank was absolutely brilliant.” Read our interview with Ann Way, former trustee of The Hamlet Centre.

Why did you need a loan?

The Hamlet Centre grew out of a toy library over 50 years ago. We’re one of very few day centres that offer services for both children and young adults with severe disabilities and complex health needs in Norwich and the surrounding areas. And the need for our services just keeps growing. Our adult day centre is an old Victorian school. We’ve extended it and altered it as much as we possibly can, but there are some things that we can’t change. For instance, it has narrow corridors and narrow doorways, which make it difficult to manoeuvre the huge equipment that disabled people often need.

We were reaching the point where if we couldn't find new premises, we’d have been forced to reduce numbers, which would have been awful. So, we needed a loan to buy a new property.

Why did you choose Charity Bank for your loan?

I went on the internet and searched for lenders. I found Charity Bank, filled in an application form, emailed it back and Danny Wilson-Dodd came back to me the very next day. We had a good talk and what Charity Bank could offer sounded great. I did try another lender, who we bank with, but their rates weren't as good. I also liked Danny’s enthusiasm. He genuinely seemed to care about what we were trying to achieve. It felt like he was truly invested in us.

Did you come up against any obstacles?

Yes, the property we wanted fell through! We were refused planning permission to change it from an industrial space.

Charity Bank were very understanding; Danny said, “Don't despair, something else will turn up.” And lo and behold, it did. Right next door to our main centre is a property that used to be run by Age Concern. They shut it in the pandemic and never reopened it, so they decided to sell it.

The location is perfect, and it was purpose-built so needed minimal alterations. Currently we are using the two buildings side by side, but the plan is to link the two centres together by knocking down a wall and building a covered ramp between them.

I believe you also got a grant from the Reach Fund. Can you tell us about that?

When the original property fell through, Danny got us a £15,000 grant from Reach to help with our search. We used £2,000 to pay for someone to look for a property, but they didn’t come up with anything that we weren’t already aware of. However, we’ve been able to use the rest of the money to cover the fees involved in buying the new property.

Because it was a charity selling to a charity, there have been a lot of extra hoops to jump through. The Charity Commission had to be certain that both of us were doing the best for our respective charities. That was tricky because the property itself was worth a lot more as a building site than it was as a daycentre. So there were two very different valuations. We had to get a barrister to confirm that we weren’t paying over the odds for the property, so the Reach money was really helpful as it covered most of the professional fees including the structural engineer, solicitor and surveyor.

Did you consider leasing a property rather than buying it?

The original plan was that another charity would buy a property for us, and we would lease it, but I suddenly thought, “Why are we letting them buy it? Why don't we buy it?” During COVID, we needed more space and had to rent premises, and that was awfully expensive.

Nobody had explored whether we could borrow some money to buy a property ourselves. But our loan repayments are less than we’d be paying to lease a similar property, and in 25 years, we'll have paid off the loan.

How did you find the process of getting the loan?

It was very straightforward and easy. I think that was partly down to the fact that our finances were in order and we already owned two properties. When the first property that we planned to buy fell through, Danny gave us a year to find a new one, without having to pay any additional fees. We couldn’t make that time frame in the end, but he extended it, which was brilliant. It was so helpful to know all the way along that we had the bank behind us.

Charity Bank bent over backwards to help us. A lot of the process of getting the loan happened during COVID, so Danny couldn’t come out to see us, but we had video calls and he came to the opening.

Could you have fundraised to buy the property instead of taking out a loan?

No. We were quite unusual as a charity in that we didn’t have a fundraising team at the time. We used an external fundraiser, but the majority of our income comes from the Health Service and county council money that’s paid to people with disabilities.

So, around £360,000 of the cost of the property came from the charity and we took a Charity Bank loan of £227,500. We’re now looking for grants to put towards the cost of alterations.

How did the other trustees feel about taking out a loan?

Our trustees could see the sense in buying rather than leasing. I think they were encouraged by the fact that Charity Bank was behind us, and our auditors, who had read everything from Charity Bank, were also behind us.

What benefits will the new property bring to the people you work with?

The biggest benefit is that we've now got more space, including a proper garden. We’ll also be able to expand provision slightly, and we have much more flexibility. We can now cater for up to 35 adults a day between the two properties.

What would you say to other charities who are thinking about taking out a loan?

Don't give up, because Charity Bank will stick with you. They were absolutely brilliant. Danny really did understand what it’s like to run a charity, how long it can take to get things approved by trustees, and why you have to comply with charity legislation. He was so patient and so helpful.

If you need a loan for a property purchase, please contact Charity Bank by emailing loanenquiries@charitybank.org

About Charity Bank

Charity Bank is the loans and savings bank owned by and committed to supporting the social sector. Since 2002, we have used our savers’ money to make more than 1200 loans totalling over £450m to housing, education, social care, community and other social purpose organisations.

Find out more about us here.

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