AIM Higher – Castle Bromwich Hall and Gardens

AIM Higher consultant Hilary Barnard was brought in to assist the Trustees of Castle Bromwich Hall and Gardens to review their governance structure. Glynis Powell, General Manager of the Hall and Gardens, explains how the need to undertake a governance review came about and what the consultancy support has achieved so far.

What’s the background to your AIM Higher application?

Even the most established heritage organisations probably spend most of their energies on just making sure the doors open every day. Sometimes, at least for small museums and trusts, this means that dealing with the ‘strategic’ and ‘important’ lags behind attending to the ‘urgent’ and ‘immediate’.

Our independent Trust is nearing its fortieth year, we’re certainly no longer a ‘start up’, but even after all this time the tiny staff, volunteer and trustee teams have never quite been able to coast on any sunny uplands. Our size and independence nevertheless enables us to be flexible in our responses to what the world throws at us…. and survive.

Growth post pandemic meant we approached the VAT threshold rather more quickly than we expected. We turned to AIM for support and practical advice about setting up trading subsidiaries – something the Trustees felt very wary of.

Via AIM’s group membership of the CFG (Charity Finance Group) we got some pretty instant advice on VAT for charities.  But Trustees felt we needed more nuanced advice that directly responded to our particular situation as an historic garden and venue.

We were listened to!

How did support from the consultant help?

Although we thought we needed financial advice, AIM Higher allocated us a governance consultant, Hilary Barnard. Initial scepticism was soon replaced by a ‘light bulb moment’. Sometimes consultants confirm what you already know, which is good, but it is even more refreshing when they point out something you really hadn’t considered at all.

Our Trust was set up in the 1980s, as many were, to ‘save something’. An alliance between local authorities, national and local stakeholders set up a Charitable structure which, like a Norman castle, was set to defensively repel all incursions; in our case the Trust began with a whole board full of nominated trustees, with veto powers.

Over time, internal and external advice had urged structural governance reviews, but sleeping dogs were very clearly left undisturbed. Our consultant quickly recognised that the decades old structure was not just a ‘neutral background’ anymore but a positive brake on us being able to operate and grow in a 21st century context.

Hilary’s clear and authoritative analysis helped the Trustees to understand what the essential issues were and how we compared to other organisations.

What have been the outcomes of the consultancy support so far?

Benchmarking ourselves against current good practice and other similar organisations was one of the most valued aspects of the consultancy support. Small and locally led Trustee Boards are not usually heritage professionals and don’t, as a matter of course, ‘mingle’ with others in the same sector.

AIM helps brings that knowledge directly to smaller Trusts like ourselves. Most organisations can keep up with issues of compliance, but often require outside support, advice and knowledge to show what changes can be made to positively enhance current and future existence.

In our case the changes proposed by the consultant highlighted and brought into very stark relief other discrepancies and weaknesses which had, perhaps, been swept under the carpet for too long.

What happens next?

While the governance review is still in process, AIM’s continued support and authoritative voice through the changes has given Trustees the confidence to move steadily forward and to manage the, inevitable, resistances and kickbacks, in the long-term interests of our Trust.

Heritage Trusts always take the ‘long view’- we’ve only been looking after this 400 year old site for a mere 40 years,  but while ‘our vegetable love should grow Vaster than empires and more slow’ (as Andrew Marvell put it in the 17th century) by our 40th year we sincerely hope our governance can be fit for the next phase; ”Let us roll all our strength and all Our sweetness up into one ball…..Thus, though we cannot make our sun Stand still, yet we will make him run.”

Glynis Powell, General Manager, Castle Bromwich Hall and Gardens

Read AIM’s resources for Trustees>>