Sandra Schembri – Tackling Change

Sandra Schembri, CEO of House of St Barnabas, Soho, London 7/7/12ACEVO member and speaker from this year’s Annual Conference 2013, Sandra Schembri, discusses the challenges faced when changing a charity’s business model.

What do you do when you realise that your charity can no longer support its clients in the way it has for the past 160 years?

Short answer, adapt and ensure you are creating value. Change your model.

But how? Where is the guide to support organisations through this change (who cannot afford to pay the leaders in their field to advise), how do you rebuild your networks, how do you find out what the actual need is? Change, it’s a small word but it strikes fear as it means uncertainty and who likes uncertainty. Welcome to the world of The House of St Barnabas for the past seven years.

Today we are a charity with a dual purpose, to act as custodians to a property and to support those affected by homelessness into sustained employment. This year will see us opening our doors as a not for profit private members club whilst behind the scenes -and at the heart of the operation – our Employment Academy will be integrated in to the club.

The stereotype of the Members Club is of moneyed patrons dangling empty glasses at their servers and where the word “social enterprise” can be deemed worthy but rarely luxurious.  What if a Members Club could be one part of a humanist ecosystem that offered members three things: a Grade I listed sanctuary, a connection to a rich history, and the chance to reintegrate those devastated by homelessness into sustained employment?

This was our starting point, to be a place where the pleasures and needs of one group may facilitate the dreams of others.

We were gifted a beautiful Grade I listed building in the 1860’s where it operated as a hostel. But in 2005 we found out we no longer met with the regulations necessary and in order to get ourselves compliant; the bill would have exceeded £1.5m and our bed capacity would have been reduced from 40 to 15.

While we were closing as a hostel in 2006 we undertook a lot of research regarding the shape we needed to be to support our clients. After many unsuccessful attempts, we met a potential commercial partner that brought with them energy and a network. They had a concept of hosting a 12 week not-for profit pop up events space and members club within the house and the funds raised would be donated between their Foundation and us.

Buoyed by the sudden increased revenue and potential we started discussions about continuing the pop up and integrating our employment academy in to the club operation.

The success for our clients was intoxicating and we decided that this club model should be used moving forward. The club offered a consistency of hours and staffing patterns in to which to integrate our training and gave real hope to the charity of one day being financially self sustained.  We were granted our planning from Westminster City Council in April 2012 and it was then that we embarked and accelerated towards a mammoth rebranding exercise and began our journey to reengage with a new audience and start building our network once more.

Who will our members be? You. They will be the Interested and Interesting, The Curious, The Architects of Social Change. What do I want all of these people to have in common? Having the ability to think across multiple disciplines and driving ideas in to action.

Find out more about The House of St Barnabas by going to their website.
The House of St Barnabas are offering ACEVO members the chance to join the club for the special price of £600 with no joining fee (usual cost £150). For more information and how to apply please email contact@hosb, quoting ACEVO

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