Guest Blog: Gus Alston, Kentish Town City Farm
I started as CEO of Kentish Town City Farm in December 2016. We are a 4.5 acre urban farm, running a range of free and low cost activities for the local community. Our main focus is on families and young people, adults with disabilities and older people, but we serve the whole community. We were the first city farm in the UK, and the beginning of a movement which saw over 200 projects being set up throughout the UK, linking communities with agriculture, horticulture and nature.
In the current financial climate any decision that means spending more money is difficult. Every pound extra that it costs, will inevitably be a pound that cannot be spent elsewhere delivering the impact of the charity. However, I strongly believe that as organisations whose aims and objectives are around improving lives, we need to apply those same principles to our staff and volunteers. Paying a decent wage that it is possible to live on, should really be the first stage of that, and not something that we feel we cannot achieve. On top of paying the Living Wage at the farm, we also provide a robust pension, sickness and annual leave package, ensuring that we fulfill our duty of care to our staff, so that they can focus on our core work with the communities that we serve.
Becoming an accredited Living Wage charity has had a hugely positive effect on the way we are viewed internally and externally. It shows current and potential staff that we value their work, leading to improved retention and recruitment. Our Facebook post celebrating our accreditation was one of our most viewed and shared posts of the year, demonstrating the depth of feeling around this amongst our supporters and the local community.
Reading the Low Pay in the Charity Sector report, I was genuinely shocked to see that 26% of charity sector workers are being paid under the LW. With the overall (all sectors) UK average being 21%, clearly this is something we need to come together to tackle. I think there is a cultural issue here, and I’m sure many charity sector colleagues will recognise the many conversations I find myself having, where people assume that all of my staff are volunteers or ask if my job is full-time. We have the issue of our own culture of reward and recognition to work on, but we also need to challenge the assumptions of how others see us.
It has been refreshing therefore to see so many funders now supporting the Living Wage, as part of the Living Wage Friendly Funders scheme. Having the support of funders, including our current largest supporter the City Bridge Trust, will help more charities to follow this path with confidence, knowing that investing in their staff is recognised by the organisations helping to fund our vital work.
I have started focusing on how I can promote the benefits of paying the Living Wage and of course of accreditation to other organisations in Camden. In November 2017 I took over as Vice Chair of the C4 Consortium, which brings together 17 charities at the heart of the many diverse communities in Camden. With this role and within the many other partnerships that we work in, I aim to persuade others to join us and ensure that those who choose to make a career out of improving the lives of others, are given adequate salaries so that they themselves can enjoy their lives.
Last year the Living Wage Foundation published the Low Pay in the Charity Sector report, which found that over 26% of charity workers in the UK earn less than the real Living Wage. Since the report was published, the Foundation has been working with charities, their employees, funders, commissioners and more, to explore what can be done. A short action plan will be published soon with a set of ideas that will hopefully help more charities to pay a real Living Wage.