Our pledge for the future as we face the impact of COVID-19

In recent weeks I have written about the profound impact COVID-19 has had on the Foundation. Since March, all our venues have been closed and we have stopped running most of our services. In three short months the income from our property portfolio and investments dropped by a third, many of our tenants have continued to pay their rent, but there are many others who are unable to. With no significant prospect of our income returning quickly to pre-pandemic levels we have to act. It is this income that allows us to invest some £7.3m each year to fund and deliver our wide range of charitable activities. These include our grants programme and our transport service along with Broadway Cinema and Standalone Farm. Such a catastrophic financial loss cannot be sustained and, as a result, we must make savings of £2.6m this year to give us a balanced budget for 2021.

During May and June, we had conversations with our staff and trustees about how we might generate new revenue streams and adapt what we do to future proof some of our services. Some of these ideas have been taken forward, but sadly, given the extent of our financial losses, we have had to make some very difficult decisions. The stark reality is that we can no longer afford many of the services that were delivered before.

Difficult decisions

That is why it is with great sadness that we have taken the decision to close some of our charitable services. Some of these closures will be permanent, while others will be scaled back or paused as we devise a way forward with partners and funders. As a result, up to 40 of our colleagues are at risk from redundancy over the next three months. While we would like to keep people on until we find alternative ways of running services, this simply isn’t viable.  It may take several months, even years, to set in place new collaborations and funding streams. We simply don’t have the time or the money to keep posts on hold indefinitely.  

Being forced to make these decisions now is even more painful after having such a strong year in 2019. The work our teams delivered was having real impact in Letchworth, from increasing physical activity amongst older people to supporting the best start for early years children. And much else besides. We were reaching those who most needed our support, and our partnerships in the community were bringing about real results.  

Now, as we slowly emerge from lockdown, the future is very unclear. We must face these losses and challenges head on and take action now to ensure we have a Foundation which can continue to support the community in the months and years ahead. Many other businesses and charities locally and nationally are sadly having to do the same.

What is changing:

Venue/Charitable Service

Status of Venue/Service

Broadway Cinema & Theatre

The cinema will reopen as soon as it has been made COVID secure. However, like many theatres, our theatre programme will be put on hold until the market recovers and to allow the Broadway Cinema to recover financially.  The theatre is subsidised, so we need to ensure the cinema is in good financial health before bringing back theatre.  We are hoping to announce a new programme later next year.   This means some jobs will be affected at this venue. 

Broadway Studio & Gallery

We are looking at partnership funding opportunities to help make the gallery viable for the future.  However, staff will be scaled back at this venue.    

Standalone Farm

The Farm will reopen as soon as we can meet key safeguarding, safety and financial measures.  

Spirella Ballroom

This will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Museum Services

We are working through plans and ideas about how the Garden City Collection and Exhibition will operate in the future.  It is likely they will operate in a different way.

Museum at One Garden City will reopen once safety and safeguarding measures have been met.  Staff will be scaled back at these services as a result of these changes.

Active Letchworth

This will no longer be delivered by the Foundation. However, we are having discussions with the Active Letchworth Partnership to explore how this could become a community-led programme.   

Ernest Gardiner Treatment Centre

We have been working with partners to find a way to keep some of these services running as part of wider health and wellbeing offer for the town.  So far, nothing viable has come forward, but we remain hopeful that our collaborations with health partners will come to fruition in 2021/22. The treatment centre has been closed since March and will not reopen.

Community Transport

This will be paused while we explore future operating models to run this service.  As this may take some time, the service will remain closed.

Discover Letchworth

The service will close while we consider how this will operate in the community in the future.  However, the Discover Letchworth website will continue to be kept up to date with community information.   

Town Centre Wardens

This service will no longer run. 

Changing how we deliver our charitable commitments

Based on these changes, the Foundation will operate in a completely different way. What will categorically remain is our commitment to being at the centre of the Letchworth community – working with residents and businesses to make Letchworth thrive in the years ahead. It is my pledge that our charitable objects – the very core of what we do to enrich the lives of those who live and work in Letchworth – will also remain in place. This means we will continue to support activities in these areas.   I want to assure residents and businesses that, while we will be positioned differently in the wake of the pandemic, we will adapt and thrive in this fast-changing landscape.

The environment and sustainability, health and wellbeing, education, culture and heritage will continue to be key priorities moving forward, along with support for families and young people and tackling poverty in our town. This will be allied to our grants programme, which will continue to award in excess of £400,000 to groups and individuals in our community. We will need to make sure this investment works even harder than before – making a real impact on people’s lives while attracting other investment and funding to support people who will need that more than ever in the coming years.

We will also play our role in supporting our tenants and the local economy to recover. The crisis of COVID-19 has sparked innovation that we want to nurture, but it has also created jeopardy. Strong leadership, collaboration and ideas will be needed to re-ignite our town centre and help local business more broadly to thrive again. We have a strong basis for that in Letchworth and we are confident that we can do more together to make sure the future is bright.

Paying tribute to our community partners and colleagues  

If we have learned anything from this crisis, it is that we now have even stronger roots in our community than before. We have been inspired by the incredible collaborative spirit that we have witnessed through our Community Response Team and helpline, set up to support the town’s most vulnerable people during COVID-19. Letchworth has united like never before, with charities, clubs, groups, the council and other organisations coming together to find ways to support those who needed help during the lockdown and beyond.

This remarkable action demonstrated how effectively we can work together, at speed, and with a small amount of money to create a safety net for local people.  It has also shown how we can cope with fast-changing situations and work for the benefit of Letchworth and its people. It is a role the Foundation has always prided itself on and will continue to carry out in the future.

We have also seen the true commitment of those who work at the Foundation, many of whom volunteered with the Community Response Team over the last three months. I would like to pay tribute to all of them who gave their time, and other colleagues who kept the organisation operating under very challenging circumstances. It is also important to thank those who contributed to the remarkable results achieved in 2019.

The focus of the coming weeks will be to support our colleagues who will lose their jobs. It is devastating that they are being impacted by something so completely out of our control – and for that reason we will provide all the help and guidance that we can in this transition period.

Looking to the future

As we enter a new era, how we work with the community will be more important than ever. COVID-19 has caused much pain and suffering in the first half of this year, the clinical effects have been devastating and the repercussions on our business and community will be just as great in the second half of 2020. We will need to revise our strategic plan, which we hope to have in place by the end of September.  This will set out our new direction and how we can continue to get the most from our unique financial model to make Letchworth a great place to live and work. Even with the continuing shadow of COVID and the dreadful impact it has had on our town, we will come through this as an organisation with a vision and ambition, unity and strength of purpose which has always marked out Letchworth Garden City and its people. 

If you have any questions about the changes to any of our services, please email response@letchworth.com

Broadway Gardens