5. Strong Governance
Developing high standards of governance remains a priority for the charity, with a focus on Leadership and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion taking centre stage.
Charity Governance Code
The Heart of England Forest continued the work it had begun before the pandemic on the Charity Governance Code. As a registered charity and company limited by guarantee, the Heart of England Forest must comply with the legal frameworks governed by the Charity Commission and Companies House, as well as national legislation and local regulation. Good governance is fundamental to a charity’s success. The Charity Governance Code takes this obligation a step further, drawing upon the Charity Commission guidance, but sets principles and recommended practice and encouraging charities to be aspirational and strive for the highest standards. With a refreshed Charity Governance Code and a new section on Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), trustees have worked through the Code, reviewing, and assessing the charity against the criteria, identifying areas of particular strength, alongside areas selected for continuous improvement. Trustees selected the areas of Leadership and EDI to focus on in 2021/23.
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)
Having selected EDI as a priority upon which to focus within the Charity Governance Code, it was an area extended across the charity as an organisational priority. Rather than a standalone topic, EDI is being woven into everything that the charity does to deliver its vision and mission.
Diversifying our income streams to support the growth of the Forest – new holiday cottages
Opened in October 2021, our two new holiday cottages have sustainability running through them as part of our commitment to mitigate the effects of climate change. Converted from an old barn, throughout the conversion process we tried to be as sustainable as possible. We used local companies to design, project manage and build the cottages, the oak cladding is FSC certified from sustainable sources, and we have incorporated low energy mechanical and electrical fittings throughout - there are solar panels and Tesla Powerwalls to generate and store electricity, and electric vehicle charging points have been fitted at both cottages. Even much of the furniture has been hand-crafted from reclaimed materials. The imported energy for both properties is EKO accredited - 100% renewable and from energy farms that minimise their environmental impact and are not located in areas that affect bird and marine habitats. To encourage cycling as a means of exploring the area, secure bike storage is provided at both cottages. Even the smallest touches have considered the impact on the environment, from eco-friendly dishwasher tablets to coffee pods which generate funds for fellow environmental charity the Eden Project.
Year in Review
Within the Heart of England Forest, we have committed to improving Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) as one of our core priorities. Whilst we are mindful that we cannot achieve everything overnight, and meaningful work on this area takes time and thought, we have made a number of commitments and achieved progress during 2021/22.
To create stronger, more resilient charities, ACEVO – the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, the industry body representing charity leadership – has created eight leadership principles that address Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The Heart of England Forest has made a public commitment to sign up to these principles.
Ensuring diversified income streams has never been more important than during the pandemic, when many traditional sources of funding were diverted or dried up. Fundraising and income generation is important for all charities, ensuring that they have sufficient funding to deliver their charitable objectives and public benefit, and the Heart of England Forest is no exception. With a vision to grow a 30,000 acre Forest for the benefitof people, wildlife, and the environment, maintained and cared for in perpetuity, the Heart of England Forest has invested resource during 2021/22 to generate sustainable income streams to support the work of the charity into the future, including the creation of two new eco-friendly holiday cottages, enabling people to stay for longer in the Forest, enjoying all it has to offer.
Our larger Oak Cottage sleeps 8 people and includes a downstairs bedroom and washroom suitable for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Acorn Cottage sleeps 3 in 2 rooms, and both cottages are pet friendly, meaning four-legged friends can also enjoy exploring the Forest. The cottages can be interlinked for parties of 11.
Proving to be very popular, not only do the cottages generate sustainable income for the charity, but they also encourage visitors to uselocal shops and facilities and visit local attractions, meaning the Forest has a wider economic impact on the local area, too.
Although the charity’s investments began to recover after the shock to the investment market at the start of the pandemic, the Ukraine / Russia conflict during Quarter 4 of 2021/22 saw the stockmarket plummet. With funds largely restricted for land purchase, which will take us some way towards realising our ambitious goal of a 30,000 acre native broadleaf forest, the funds are invested for the long term, but drops such as these will impact on short term performance and the growth of the funds to support the delivery of strategic projects to achieve the charity’s objectives.
The Year Ahead
As part of our commitment to attaining the highest standards of governance, 2022/23 will see the continued use of the Charity Governance Code to support continuous improvement. 2022 will also see the charity expand its Board of Trustees, improving the diversity of our leadership, and supporting the charity to be ambitious in the way it delivers public benefit.
We remain committed to our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion journey, helping us to make better decisions and increasing engagement across all areas of the charity. We will continue our strategy planning for our key areas of work – Growing the Forest, Optimising Biodiversity, Attracting People and Learning and Skills - with a focus on making the work of our charity more appealing and accessible to a wider range of audiences.