Within the heart of London is a sacred ground, more commonly known as the Charity Triangle. Starting at Angel in the north and then stretching below to Farrington in the west and Old Street to the east, charities in Britain found their home here years ago when "Shoreditch" and "Hoxton" were euphemisms for "ugly" and "cheap".
What others found unappealing, the charity sector snatched up: affordable real estate in Central London. Perhaps the charities were forward thinking enough to realise that the artistic, bohemian community there was one East London Line extension away from gentrification. Or, maybe it was the simple fact that the Borough of Islington was affordable with good transport links.
Today, Dogs Trust, Cancer Research UK, Shelter and Save the Children all have their head offices there, along with many more in the charity sector.
But, times have changed and what was ugly and cheap is now chic and expensive. The average house price in the Borough of Islington more than doubled between 2000 and 2013 from £200,000 to almost £550,000.
The buildings where these charities reside - whether owned or rentals with the other floors subletted -- are major commodities.
Is this the next scandal to hit the charity sector? One could easily imagine a Daily Mail headline: 'Charities beg cash-strapped families for money while they luxuriate in £1-million offices'.
At some point, charities will have to look at these investments and consider: how much value does prime real estate in London provide us? And by "value", I don't just mean property investments but the day-to-day gains of having your headquarters in one of the business centres of the world. Does it make sense to pay Central London rental rates? How many important clientele visit your flagship office? Is there a convenience or exceptionality about London that your charity can't be without?
For example, consider: how many of your staff can afford to live and work in London?
Recently, I met up with a group of friends who I knew when we all worked for one of the major charities residing in the Charity Triangle. They are still there and now all middle managers. Every single one of them is planning a move outside London within the next year. They coveted jobs at places like Oxfam with their offices in Oxford. We all agreed: when we were young and just starting out, the pay and conditions were worth it. We happily bunkered down with five other people in a three-bed flat in exchange for the thrill of living in London and starting our careers at major charity.
Ten years later, we are married and starting to have families. Now, we need a house with a garden, not a cocktail bar on every corner.
My friends amounted to the whole of the middle managers of one charity -- a charity we all loved, but couldn't afford working for any longer.
The charity will be left with only recent graduates. Meanwhile, those at the top may be accused of wasting money on an impressive address.
Insight into this could be very valuable to us as a sector. It's always important to know what the concerns of our donors are so they don't feel we are wasteful.
I can't say for certain what the best thing to do is. Or, even that donors would feel this way. But, without that Insight, we are stranded in the dark of some very expensive buildings.
What do you think? Can charities afford to stay in London?
Jonathan Cook | firstname.lastname@example.org | +44 (0)7921 250 211
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