Fermanagh House - shared premises

Fermanagh House is a social enterprise owned by the Fermanagh Trust. This case study gives an example of how VCSE organisations can come together to share space and by doing so access greater resources than any one organisation could on its own.

Organisational details

Fermanagh House is a social enterprise owned by the Fermanagh Trust. The building is a resource for the community and currently nine voluntary and community organisations are based there. As well as providing office space Fermanagh House provides first class training, meeting and conference facilities which are accessible to residing organisations and are also offered to other groups for hire.  Fermanagh House provides a central reception and kitchen area for the nine organisations.
 

Reasons for developing Fermanagh House and sharing services

A range of voluntary and community organisations including Fermanagh Trust were operating out of poor office accommodation in the Enniskillen area and paying high rent.

“As Enniskillen is the centre of County Fermanagh rents are very high so organisations such as the Fermanagh Trust were based in inappropriate space and paying quite a bit of money for it.”
Lauri McCusker, Director,
Fermanagh Trust

Fermanagh Trust moved accommodation several times but because of the size of the accommodation the organisation had to hire meeting, training and conference facilities on an ongoing basis.  Fermanagh Trust considered the opportunity of linking with other organisations for better accommodation with excellent training, meeting and conference facilitates onsite.

 “We thought, is there something there in terms of collaborating with others? We started to think wouldn’t it be interesting to bring organisations together under one roof, utilising the budget lines they have in terms of rent and office costs such as heat, light and photocopying.”
Lauri McCusker, Director,
Fermanagh Trust

Fermanagh Trust contacted organisations to explore if the opportunity for a shared building and services was appealing and there was a general view this would be beneficial to all organisations. Fermanagh Trust then secured a site from Fermanagh District Council and secured resources from the International Fund for Ireland, OFMDFM, the Irish Government, charitable trust money and match funding from Fermanagh Trust itself.  Fermanagh House was built and opened in 2007.

Advantages

The organisations moved into Fermanagh House to office space which was similar in size as to what they had before. Rent is also similar however the main advantage of this type of collaboration is it cuts out duplication of costs for the reception, and shared facilities.

“What was different is there is only one set of toilets, kitchen, reception areas, long corridors etc. so while overall actual office floor space that people moved into is smaller in terms of usable space, organisations actually have a lot more circulation space overall.”
Lauri McCusker, Director,
Fermanagh Trust

The rent and service charge covers the cost of maintenance, the reception area, cleaning, and utility charges such as heating and electricity. The cost of rent and the service charge costs did not increase over the first five years which has been a great benefit for organisations. Shared premises also means a reduction in certain back office costs; the organisations have no need for individual photocopiers and fax machines as they share the cost of a central one. A number of organisations also share the cost of maintaining technology as well as more daily costs like kitchen supplies.

“The charities do not have to worry about ordering oil, or catering, care taking or cleaning. Nine different organisations do not have nine building insurance, electricity or oil bills having to be paid.  Organisations come to work to provide the services that they have been set up to provide. Also there is one reception. It’s a shared service and it costs are covered in the rent. It is one point of contact for everyone coming into the building. There are not nine organisations with nine different reception services, there is one.”
Lauri McCusker, Director,
Fermanagh Trust

Through using the central reception area a number of the organisations in Fermanagh House have interacted with each other and developed joint projects. For example Liveability Ireland is part of a Disability Awareness project with other disability development groups throughout Ireland. As part of this, a joint project was developed and Development Media Workshop, a not-for-profit organisation that produces films and educational resources with a focus on social development and environmental issues, was invited and agreed to become a partner in the project. Both Liveability Ireland and Development Media Workshop are located in Fermanagh House. This partnership came about through a conversation about work that Development Media Workshop had undertaken with schools in the local area and redesigned this project to suit the needs of the Disability Awareness project.

“There is a lot of information sharing and it’s amazing what happens over a cup of coffee in the kitchen or a chat over lunch in the reception area including idea development.”
Lauri McCusker, Director,
Fermanagh Trust

Another advantage of this shared resource is the morale which has developed between the staff and organisations that reside in Fermanagh House. An example of this is with regard to circulating information about organisation’s events. Often if numbers are low, other organisations within the building will circulate information to their members and/or beneficiaries to both promote and support each other’s work, and widening the circle of influence.

“It’s a supportive environment; for many small organisations that is a bonus.”
Lauri McCusker, Director,
Fermanagh Trust

Support for individuals within the building is also well recognised and is especially important for smaller organisations. Events are also held within the premises to ensure that staff and organisations have the opportunity to interact. Regular events take place in the reception area whether it’s a birthday celebration with coffee and buns, or a fundraiser. Christmas dinner and events at Halloween are also shared.

“Staff in small organisations can go to the kitchen and chat with staff from other organisations, getting peer support and advice from others that work in the building.”
Lauri McCusker, Director,
Fermanagh Trust

Challenges

As with many collaborative arrangements the key challenge for Fermanagh House is the different personalities of the individuals involved. While the shared space has been very successful, all the organisations have had to incorporate a culture of sharing with each other.

“People come from different backgrounds, and have different personal ethos. When you bring 40 plus people into a building together and they have to share space it can be sometimes difficult to manage so as a group we worked at putting in place ‘norms’ and a culture that was acceptable and appropriate in a shared facility. We have had challenges but it is about trying to create a culture that makes a shared space work.”
Lauri McCusker, Director,
Fermanagh Trust

The Director states that it is part of his role to ensure common barriers and challenges are solved. He also feels the staff that work in the reception area of Fermanagh House have a strong role to play in ensuring harmony between all the residing organisations.

“The people on reception are the glue and they are what make this place work.”
Lauri McCusker, Director,
Fermanagh Trust

Advice

The Director of Fermanagh Trust advises anyone considering establishing shared premises to put thought into the design of the building. This is mentioned with particular regard to shared areas such as the reception and the kitchen area as these shared spaces are great for encouraging organisations to interact and share information and experiences. However the Director also feels that it is important that as much space as possible is used to generate income.

“Making space usable and functional is important. It is also important as a social enterprise to make sure as much space as possible generates an income. It assists with the sustainability of the premises.”
Lauri McCusker, Director,
Fermanagh Trust

The director also states that the role of certain people within the building is vital to ensure the success of shared services and premises. For example, it is important that the reception staff have the right skills and temperament necessary to fulfil the needs of all the organisations and the different range of people who visit the building.

“The heart of any shared space is the connection between all staff based in the centre, the user groups who utilise the meeting rooms and the reception staff, caretaker and the manager.”
Lauri McCusker, Director,
Fermanagh Trust

Every effort is made to ensure that the contents of this document are accurate, but the advice given should not be relied on as a definitive legal statement.