One in five charities consider office closures in light of pandemic

18 February 2021

One in five (19%) charities are looking at downsizing as a result of the pandemic, while a similar number (17%) are considering closing some or all of their offices, new research has found.

The research, carried out by specialist insurer Ecclesiastical, highlights the huge shift in how charities operate because of COVID-19.

Nine out of ten (95%) charities are now working remotely, with a third (37%) considering having staff working remotely on a full-time basis.

The move to home working has also given charities an opportunity to review how they operate. Over two fifths (43%) of respondents said that they are considering changing their office arrangements in the future, either through downsizing or sharing with partners.

The findings come as a number of charities announce they are downsizing to better meet their needs. In January the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) announced the sale of its London HQ as part of a modernisation programme to develop new offices which would “better meets the needs of our customers and staff”.

East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) recently announced it wasn’t renewing its lease on its office spaces as part of a cost-saving programme triggered by the pandemic.

The findings from Ecclesiastical’s Charity Risk Barometer found that almost three quarters of charities (71%) were more concerned about a loss of funding as a result of COVID-19, a result which sadly echoes the situation faced by each.

This has led to a number of charities including Age UK and Macmillan making redundancies with an estimated 60,000 jobs to be lost in the sector as a result of the pandemic, while Cancer Research has cut pay and reduced working hours.

Other charities have seen demand increase over the last 12 months, meaning their current premises is too small. Wiltshire Treehouse, a children’s bereavement charity based in Swindon, has seen demand increase as a result of the pandemic and is looking for larger premises to help them meet demand for support.

Ecclesiastical’s charity niche director Angus Roy recognised the willingness to adapt as a positive for a sector beset with challenges as a result of the pandemic.

He said: “COVID-19 has challenged us in ways we've never experienced before, but it has also given us a chance to be bold and seize on new opportunities. Be that moving to all staff working from home, downsizing or sharing space with partners.

“The sector has adapted to meeting the needs of its users while changing how it works – which is no mean feat and should be applauded. It is no surprise that thoughts have been turned to how charities can evolve by adapting the way they operate, including the spaces they work from.

“While the continuing threat of a loss of funding plus huge demand continues to drive much of the sector’s decision making – charities have been presented with a unique opportunity to review what works for them and in doing so future proof their organisation.”