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/ 10 March 2021

Costing our way through Covid

St Francis at the Engineroom, in Tottenham Hale

Andrew Johnston, Operations Director for St Francis at The Engine Room, in Tottenham Hale, reports on how one of the newest churches in the diocese has been coping through the Covid-19 pandemic.

At St Francis at The Engine Room, we were of course greatly concerned by the loss of the vast majority of our income stream in April 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the Operations Director and the highest-earning member of the team, I felt an important responsibility to help guide the charity and the church, through what would be a tricky time and as far as possible to avoid having to make any redundancies.

I had learnt from a previous role where I served as CEO of community charity through the 2008 financial crisis, that three things were critical:

  1. Make timely and effective decisions and set a clear ‘survival strategy’;
  2. Ensure as far as possible all were included and were on board with that decision-making process; and,
  3. Explore both sources of emergency financial support (income) and quickly cut all non-essential costs (expenditure).

As well as the generous furlough scheme, we took advantage of government business support through Haringey Council. We were clear with staff that we would not be ‘topping up’ the 80% of furlough payments in order to protect our financial reserves which have remained thus far stable at their March 2020 levels. Thankfully we have a very understanding and supportive staff and the members of our PCC recognised the sacrifice which staff members made in April 2020 and which has effectively been in place now for a year.

Our Time for God volunteer returned to Korea early and we made a decision not to rejoin the programme until September 2021 at the earliest. The brilliant Father Andrew Williams has stepped up and has effectively been both Parish Priest and Operations Director for the past 12 months, ensuring the bills are paid and the phone messages are checked and emails are responded to.

Although we are not a commercial business, I often recall one of my charity mentors, who always told me that the most successful charities were run as businesses. Of course, there are good and bad ways to run a business as there are good and bad ways to run a charity. However at St Francis at The Engine Room, we have been blessed to have had ongoing support from our Little Engineers Nursery and also financial cost-sharing from our new venture – our new café Table13 which has been a great success through lockdown thanks in part to many more local people working from home.

We have also been fully engaged with Tottenham Foodbank, acting as both a drop off centre for food donations and a referral agency for local people in need of emergency food support.

We are not there yet. Although a trickle of enquiries is already coming in about our space and we will again be taking online bookings from 1st July 2021 (www.engineroom.org.uk) we are aware that the situation could change for the worse, as well as for the better. One of my previous roles was to work on the ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. Having moved out of the international development field, I never thought I would be dealing with a pandemic on my doorstep.

As we served as an emergency drop off point for home testing kits, I again gave thanks for the brilliant NHS and as I got my COVID jab at St Mary’s Church in Tottenham, gave thanks for the Church of England and all she means to communities across the nation. However you are coping in 2021 with the consequences of the COVID pandemic, I hope and pray that you too are able to offer thanks.

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The diocesan communications team provides support to the network of clergy, churches, parishes and other worshipping communities that comprises the Diocese of London, as well as to the staff teams of the London Diocesan Fund.

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