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St John Ambulance to close a third of its buildings to help repay its 'Covid-19 debt'

06 Aug 2020 News

Alex Davies, a St John volunteer at NHS Nightingale and one of the people featured in the appeal.

St John Ambulance will close a third of its buildings as a cost-saving measure in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The charity currently owns or leases a total of 352 buildings, 117 of which will be shut in an effort to close a £20m funding gap.

£20m deficit

St John Ambulance warned early on in April that the suspension of fundraising and training activities, together with the need to step up its services to respond to coronavirus, would have serious consequences for its finances. 

At the time, St John Ambulance was spending £1.6m a week on its coronavirus response while also losing £1.5m a week from training and events.

The charity has since received funds from both the government and the NHS, and launched a £6m emergency fundraising appeal that has raised more than £3m so far.

However, a spokesperson for the charity said that these “significant fundraising efforts on their own cannot offset the scale of lost revenue associated with our first aid training and event cover ceasing overnight due to the pandemic”.

About half of St John Ambulance's 1,584-strong workforce was furloughed, and in May, the charity announced plans to make up to 250 staff redundant. 

Despite these cost-saving measures, the charity is still facing a £20m financial deficit, which the closure of buildings will help bridge.

Further closures could be decided in autumn

St John Ambulance could not say exactly how much the closures will save, but expects them to make a “substantial” difference.

A spokesperson said: “We calculate that the building closures will make a substantial contribution to repaying our Covid-19 debt, although the exact amount will be determined at the time of sale.

“Closures will also reduce the significant costs associated with maintaining and running an estate of this size. We want to prioritise spending our resources on caring for the communities in which we serve.”

The charity also said that while the 117 buildings involved represent “the majority” of properties that will close, “a further review will be carried out in the autumn”.

St John Ambulance is also planning to grow its volunteer force and increase its use of technology. Its volunteers gave 160,000 hours of their time since the crisis began and teams have already been holding meetings digitally.

‘We have to reduce our estate to shore up the charity’s future’

Martin Houghton-Brown, chief executive of St John Ambulance, said: “We have not taken this decision lightly – we know our buildings represent more than just a physical presence in communities.

“However, we have a duty to continue serving these communities by responding to their health needs and it is with regret that we have to reduce our estate to shore up the charity’s future.

“As part of this process, I will be exploring, with St John people, how we evolve to still meet and serve communities. Whether that’s using technology to better connect with people or finding partners in the community who would welcome St John, we will find new ways to continue our life saving work now, and for many years to come.”

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