The Churches Conservation Trust: Achieving Multiple Forms of Impact


Magazine article

The Long View of Philanthropy

As we approach our 50th Anniversary in 2019, the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) has moved from a pure building preservation charity to become a membership organisation with a vision to increase philanthropy and social investment across civic society and religious heritage. We work with businesses, philanthropists, charities and governments to develop greater expertise, awareness and impact in the social sphere.

On the issues of venture philanthropy and impact investment, the Churches Conservation Trust takes, in a way, the long view. Of the 347 churches under our care, a great many of Norman foundation and even earlier, all are listed or deemed of outstanding cultural or heritage significance: all can be seen, in one form or another, as the product of patronage and philanthropy over many centuries.

St Nicholas, Saintbury, for example, was first constituted on a Saxon or pagan site and has in its long history been subject to many key additions and alterations. The building’s earliest known feature is an 11th-century sundial. The early finely carved box pews are an 18th-century addition and there are some interesting early post-Medieval wallpaintings in the chancel, Arts and Crafts features that were added in the early 20th century including the chancel and north chapel ceilings, the north chapel screen and the Chancel chandelier.

What appears to be a complete and integrated piece of work is, in fact, the culmination of active and interested investment over many generations. The cumulative impacts of these acts of philanthropy are more than aesthetic: close study rewards the view that each building of this kind forms a vivid, living tribute to the active philanthropic involvement of many individuals over many years. We see our 21st-century philanthropists as being part of this distinguished tradition.

The CCT itself emerged as the passionate endeavour of a private individual. Ivor Bulmer-Thomas was one of a number of charismatic figures who emerged in the 1960s in the vanguard of the preservation of our architectural inheritance, Sir John Betjemen being another. (Betjemen’s daughter, Candida Lycett Green, was formerly our Vice President and, since her death, we have named our Annual Lecture in her memory).

Bulmer-Thomas was a singular force and a social entrepreneur before the phrase had been coined. His mission, ultimately, was to strengthen the social capital in our communities. He understood the threat to these churches as more than just the demolition of bricks and mortar: he saw these buildings were more than just vessels of worship. Their historical function had always been a central meeting point for song, trade, meeting and discussion.

When first founded in 1969 and for its first 30 years, the CCT was principally funded by a combination of Church and State. Under recent Chairs Frank Field MP and Loyd Grossman, we have understood for quite some time that this model can only diminish and have been working towards much greater levels of independent income to secure the future of our unique collection.

Notably, in 2015, we were awarded the prestigious Europa Nostra prize, the Oscars of the European heritage sector, for our outstanding work in this field. At a recent meeting in London, Secretary of State Tracy Crouch singled out the CCT for its innovative entrepreneurialism and willingness to engage with multiple commercial and philanthropic partners. So what have we done to earn these plaudits?

A new partnership between government, commerce and philanthropy

The CCT has taken an entrepreneurial approach to philanthropy and charitable funding. We are actively engaged with our grassroots, a strident advocate of ‘smart working’ and a more strategic business-like approach to built heritage and the local community. We also offer an advisory service to local community groups on building their resilience and protecting their heritage, through workshops, research and formal training programmes.

In 2014, we conducted a review of both our existing philanthropic supporters and a sense check against the new emerging philanthropic and civil society paradigms. What emerged were two very different routes to market, which we believe represent an innovation in the field, but with traditional-sounding titles. Our data evidenced that our philanthropists wanted to see two difference relationships, and as such two new programme streams were generated.

The first of these was seen in those (HNWIs) whose interest in our work was typically driven by an interest in historical and heritage work; many of these HNWIs were motivated through personal faith, cultural detail or come from specialist scientific backgrounds. Many are regionally based and have a strong personal interest in the rural agenda. They have a desire for good scientific data and empirical, evidence-based analysis of archaeological findings. Their interest typically centred on a specific kind of church, or region of England, quite often arising from a family connection. Reflecting our historic lineage and our proud association with our founder’s guiding principles; we have called this programme the Bulmer-Thomas Circle.

Our second group was identified as ultra high-net worth (UHNW) whose interest in our work was more strategic and aligned with our social, environmental and political impacts. This group are typically more urban-based, metrocentric and culturally diverse. This group has a desire to give, not just monies, but of their time and expertise in providing guidance and political support in our activities. Their interest is not just confined to heritage or rural issues, but stems from a broader desire to work with the long-term strategic objectives of CCT. This ‘Chancel Club’ programme works closely with our board and Chair; participation is by strict invitation of the Chairman and Chief Executive.

This work complements an energetic and unapologetic approach to commercial partnership. We have a thriving income stream of film and video hire to production companies; 2016 will see us in partnership with a major music label, co-promoting our churches as touring venues; and most recently, our ‘Champing’ endeavour (essentially, ‘glamping’ in a church) has proven our greatest success yet, with coverage as far afield as Germany and the United States (see for more.)

The inter-relationship between people and their built environment is complex and subtle. Increasingly, CCT has come to be regarded as an important social business through our Regeneration team – an important new social enterprise with demonstrable and measurable impacts. The Regeneration team and our churches generate over £12m of business in local communities, using core investment of just £4.2million, a return on investment of roughly 3:1. We needed to demonstrate the impact of this work both in order to understand for ourselves what works and to attract wider support and potential for growth.

Measuring impact

Measuring impact is in some senses as old as the hills. In its simplest form, an organisation looks at the data it already produces through its financial and operational records and analyses and presents them in a way which demonstrates the effectiveness or otherwise of its work. Charities have always produced accounts and an annual report, there’s no magic about that.

This is where we started at CCT. We conducted an impact analysis by recruiting an accomplished volunteer with policy and research skills – a former senior civil servant – to do the thinking and the groundwork and provided him with the data he needed to analyse our effectiveness. He took a straightforward approach – desktop research using existing financial and management reports added to some fresh qualitative analysis mostly based on interviews with partners, staff and volunteers.

The study showed that CCT’s charitable activities generate a ‘knock-on benefit’ of £10million in local economic activity. Our historic church repair programme supports over 70 local full-time craft and related skilled jobs. A total of 1,750 volunteers contribute their time and skills to our buildings, with a value equivalent to at least £1m. Around 1.9m visitors to our churches enjoy a heritage experience valued at more than £4m when compared to paying attractions. They go on to spend an estimated £6m with local businesses each year.

The resulting Impact Report gives a good picture of the value of our investment across a wide range of social, environmental and economic outputs. You can see it here. This does the job where what we want is to capture and present global indicators of an organisation’s overall performance.

A theory of change

We realised however, that we needed to develop something a bit more sophisticated and, crucially, transferable, for the growing number of complex, multi-dimensional community and heritage projects we were getting involved in. We needed an impact measurement system which could apply consistently across a diverse range of projects in very different situations: from a heritage and enterprise space in post-industrial Bolton to a community hub and shop in rural Lincolnshire. It also needed to be something we could help other groups do for themselves when they wanted to measure the impact of the projects we were assisting. So we worked with multiple local and national community organisations to:

1. Develop a core set of social outcomes of meaning in all contexts

2. Build an evaluation framework which would allow us to measure and present those outcomes.

The resulting Theory of Change can be used by CCT, other charities and local communities to value and manage their own projects and assets (in this case, historic churches) so that their full social, environmental, economic and cultural value can be realised. This is important work as it demonstrates to communities the potential of historic churches in an era of declining church attendance.

What is a Theory of Change? In essence, it is a carefully-crafted statement which captures the change we aim to bring about through our intervention. Our consultants, BOP Consulting, define it as something which:

1. Explains how an initiative has an impact on its beneficiaries

2. Outlines all the things that a programme does for its beneficiaries, the ultimate impact that it aims to have on them, and all the separate outcomes that lead or contribute to that impact

3. Effectively describes and explains the impact of the programme from a beneficiary’s point of view.

A Theory of Change is, of course, different for all charities. Ours is:

‘The [CCT] Regeneration Taskforce supports communities to create projects that address community needs through local historic churches’

The Theory is a hypothesis which can then be broken down into a number of planned aims including:

1. Outputs, such as: ‘Project management, project delivery and activities’

2. Intermediate outcomes, eg: ‘Community management is organisationally and financially sustainable’

3. Long-term outcomes which include: ‘People feel more confident, valued and supported’

4. Impacts, such as: ‘Communities are happier and more successful places’.

It’s also important to identify any underlying assumptions in the methodology, such as: ‘Quality assurance adequately assesses community & commercial project needs’ Indicators, or ‘events’ which are deemed to demonstrate the occurrence of the various outputs, outcomes and impacts and against which they can be measured are developed for each of 1 – 4. A wide range of tests and research procedures are then used to record and measure the occurrence or otherwise of the indicators in order to assess the impact of the programme overall and the varying impacts of each input. All or a selection of the following might be used:

• Skills audit

• Desktop analysis of accounts, business plans etc.

• Needs audit

• Participant survey

• Focus groups

• Quality assessment user survey.

The Theory of Change approach works well for assessing the impact of multi-dimensional, community led projects which need a high degree of flexibility and sensitivity to local conditions but to which a framework has to be applied if they are to be measured. We’re still in the developmental stages of this work and will now be testing it out on forthcoming projects.