Three years ago I wrote about the work of Mel Bonney-Kane, chief executive of Coast and Vale Community Action, based in Scarborough. Bonney-Kane had built up the charity’s property portfolio and was using the profits from renting out offices, training, and conference facilities to sustain Cavca. I suggested then that local infrastructure charities could survive only if their leaders learned Bonney-Kane’s entrepreneurial skills.
In March, Cavca and the other six infrastructure charities in North Yorkshire lost their contract from the county council and the local clinical commissioning group. The contract, worth £1.4m over three years for "community support and volunteering", was awarded to Community First Yorkshire. For Cavca, this meant the end of its annual local government subsidy of £173,000 for its support services for local groups. It seemed to me to be a good time to find out how Bonney-Kane viewed a future with no local statutory grants.
Owning and managing four large, profitable buildings remains at the heart of Cavca's work. The Street has become the go-to destination for youth activities in Scarborough, with facilities including a popular climbing wall, a 1950s-themed café and Radio Scarborough’s studio. Sarah Thornton, company director at the careers guidance charity FutureworksNY, told me: "It’s great to be in The Street with lots of other social enterprises and third-sector organisations. We get referrals within the building and can refer young people to others, reducing barriers for our clients."
In Whitby, both Church House and the Green Lane Centre are fully occupied, with tenants offering family advice services and spaces for fitness groups and creative arts. The Lobster Pot Nursery and Crèche is a long-term tenant of Church House. Victoria Smith, chair of the nursery, says the other tenants based in the building act as a support network. "It’s comforting to know you can pop your head around somebody’s door for support whenever you need to," she said. Both Thornton and Smith spoke highly of Cavca's trustee training scheme, business support services and the help it provides to find new funding.
Income from buildings formed a large part of Cavca's earned income in 2016, totalling £601,000 out of its overall income of £883,494. When added together to other sources such as selling consultancy services and managing contracts, 68 per cent of Cavca's total income comes from its income-generating activities.
It is a strong foundation, but the loss of local council funding will leave a big hole in Cavca's finances. Bonney-Kane sees it moving away from what she calls "a Navca infrastructure model" to a "development trust model" of working. "The whole ethos of the development trust movement is about reducing reliance on grant support by the generation of independent income – something we are achieving now," she says.
So could Cavca's approach work for other infrastructure charities? Bonney-Kane isn’t sure. "Our merger with Ryedale Voluntary Action in 2013 brought cash-rich and asset-rich organisations together and gave us a unique foundation," she says.
Cavca is about to add another building to its portfolio – this time a community centre in Hull – and Bonney-Kane talks of running more community spaces and arts facilities. It’s clear that she continues to offer an inspiring example of what a social entrepreneur can bring to local infrastructure.
Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser