We need to talk about The Archers…

The Ambridge Conservation Trust, rewilding, a lack of partnership working and why Peggy has probably received some poor advice….

I am sat here opposite my darling partner (in life and work) quietly blogging about The Archers, specifically, the Ambridge Conservation Trust.

He hates The Archers about as much as I love it.  For me, it delivers a brief window of respite in my busy world (though the recent foray into Brian and Jennifer’s sex life was a bit of a shock).  For him, it represents triviality, banality and a pointless waste of time.  He flees at the sound of the theme tune and has taught his son to do the same.

A recent storyline was of particular interest however and (unfortunately for him), professional relevance which legitimises the existence of this article.

It involves village matriarch Peggy Archer deciding that she would set up a charitable trust (‘The Ambridge Conservation Trust’) as a vehicle through which she would donate the sum of £500,000 to the person or team with the best idea for conserving the local countryside and tackling global climate change.

As a fundraiser specialising in securing money from charitable trusts, someone with experience in the environmental / conservation sector and a massive Archers fan, I cannot help but have an opinion.

Disclaimer, I know that The Archers is not real (though I believe that there are Archers conspiracy theorists aka my own brother who would disagree with me) and there are elements of the storyline which exist for dramatic effect only, but for fun anyway (and at the risk of losing several newsletter subscribers…).

Here’s my take on why Peggy has probably received some poor advice:

  1. An odd constitution

I’m not sure why one would set up a charitable trust in order to make a single gift.

As a charity, the Ambridge Conservation Trust would be subject to the same rules and regulations as those who deliver benefit through the provision of goods and services to participants.  Charities are complex and costly to set up, so why do it for a single donation?

Surely it would be better for Peggy to gift the money as a major donor?  She could easily create a legally binding grant agreement with the recipient.  This would save the trouble of setting up a new charity and appointing trustees, only to disband it all after a couple of years?

  1. Support of for-profit companies by a charitable trust

Maybe the creation of The Ambridge Conservation Trust is the only way Peggy can gift the money to a commercial enterprise in a tax efficient way?

Most charitable trusts tend to give only to other charities, but from what I could glean (sadly, I couldn’t locate The Ambridge Conservation Trust’s record on the Charity Commission site) they have no restrictions on the type of organisation which it can support and are actively inviting for-profit companies to apply.

Is this even allowed?  I would have thought that there were rules regarding the support of for-profit organisations by charitable trusts?

I’d love to be enlightened on this topic if any charity law experts fancy getting in touch?

  1. Landscape scale conservation and competition

The Ambridge Conservation Trust will offer a single prize of £500,000 to one ‘winner’.

This is problematic for several reasons.  Firstly, charitable trusts don’t work like this.  Whilst guidance around the amount available is offered, it would be odd to engineer your project to fit a specific amount of money and a trust would likely discourage this.  Organisations are invited to submit proposals based on outcomes and impact, not an arbitrary figure.

Secondly and really importantly, there are around 160,000 charities in the UK.  Duplication across sectors and geographic boundaries is inevitable and with competition for funds increasing, it is so important that non-profits form alliances wherever they can.

Most charitable trusts encourage and welcome partnership bids rather than actively seeking to create competition.

From what I know of landscape scale restoration, it requires collaboration if projects are to have even a sniff of success.  Partnership working is not optional.  Nature cannot thrive adequately in small pockets of countryside.  It takes a concerted effort over generations to see real change in baseline biodiversity markers, ideally across miles and miles of connected land (and therefore by default and necessity, involving several different landowners).

Whilst I can understand Peggy’s desire to keep her cash local, I believe she has been poorly advised around the strategy of awarding only one gift.  Surely a partnership (or at least multiple gifts) would have been easy to establish (especially given that all of the applicants know each other anyway and largely agree on how best to do sustainable farming).

I get that the competition element makes for a more sensational (never thought I’d use this word in relation to the Archers!!!) storyline trajectory, but writers have missed an opportunity to explain to the listeners (who I think actually care about the details of environmental practices) what good practice looks like.

Hopefully they will surprise us all by announcing more than one Ambridge Conservation Trust winner and inviting the teams to work together to enable greater impact.  At the time of writing, I don’t know the outcome.

To be fair to the writers, I have been enjoying this story and am delighted that the topic of rewilding has been introduced.  I recently read ‘Feral’ by George Monbiot, an incredible book which has challenged my thinking and actually made me change my mind on issues relating to agriculture, EU farming subsidies, sheep, big cats and our perception of what makes our countryside beautiful.  I recommend this book very much.

So in conclusion, if the Archers’ team would like to hire me as their Philanthropy Adviser, I am definitely up for it, though I suspect it’s a bit late for Peggy.

I’d also love to know if The Archers is a point of division in other people’s relationships.  It will also be interesting to see if LarkOwl is still in business by the time Tony discovers this post…

Thanks for reading,

Caroline

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