Radical Spirituality

Microcosm_of_London_Plate_064_-_Quakers'_Meeting_(tone)

Lancaster University are running a free on line course exploring how/why Quakers formed and grew into the radical group they are today.

” Together, we will explore the beginnings of Quakerism and this critical piece of religious history of a group who gathered around a radical and outspoken spiritual message that was to change the face of 1650s England, and has since remained a distinctive part of the religious landscape.”

Click here to join now – it starts October 3rd.

I’m looking forward to it!

Pension advice for small charities

2015 05 01 Clerks Reference booksPension Advice

There was a time when the only reference books found in a meeting house were similar to those seen at the Clerks’ table at Yearly Meeting. Over the years, as many Area Meetings have registered as charities, this has changed and now legal advice is as necessary as spiritual. While pensions are mentioned in the bible, it doesn’t qualify as helpful advice.

At the Managing Meeting Houses course last month there were several anxious questions about pensions.

  1. Do they apply to all employees?
  2. Do we have to set one up for our volunteer wardens?
  3. What about ‘flexible’ employees with limited contracts – often known as zero-hour contracts?

Obviously, I’d recommend seeking professional advice if you have any concerns. The guidance given here is a summary of what I’ve found useful, and supplied to my clients on request.

  1. Yes – every employer with at least one eligible member of staff must enrol them onto a workplace pension scheme, and then contribute towards it.
  2. Volunteer wardens aren’t employees and so don’t qualify for auto enrolment. You aren’t able (as a meeting) to contribute into a pension for them as this is seen as payment in kind. That creates problems for their employment status. From the very helpful gov.uk website: Workers employed and paid by the charity for the work they do are eligible for pensions if they:
    • earn more than the current minimum wage
    • are aged between 22 and the state pension age
    • work in the UK

    ‘Workers’ include contractors and agency staff, as well as people working under an apprenticeship. Volunteers and unpaid staff are not eligible.

  3. Contractors who are on zero hour contracts and work in other places may not qualify for pensions. You may need to take legal advice regarding the contracts you use and your employment and recruitment policies.

The Charity Finance Group (CFG) has produced a useful guide to pensions – downloadable from that link. The publication hopes to provide some guidance for the 22,000+ charities, each with less than 25 members of staff, who are due to be auto-enrolling their staff between 1st January 2016 and 1st April 2017.

The guide is easy to read with advice on how to prepare, implement, and build the necessary processes. It urges you to plan early and budget for additional costs created by auto-enrolment.

Quaker A-Z: L is for Lead & Lighting

2011 01 Front of buildingThis post is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

L is for Lead

Many meeting houses have lead on their roofs or windows – even those who have a tiled or thatch roof may have flashing as can be seen on the porch above. Sadly this has become a target for thieves as the price of lead has continued to grow and the demand is likely to continue.
Most meeting houses can not afford to install complex security systems. However there some straightforward ways to protect your building and your lead from both theft and any damage done not only during the thieving, but after if the loss isn’t spotted immediately – giving time for water and other things to gain entry to the building.
  • Contact your local crime prevention team and ensure they are aware of the building and the value of any metals on the site. Check whether or not the area is a metal theft hotspot.
  • Keep gates locked and restrict vehicle access. Consider installing telescopic bollards, or similar devices. Remove any easy means of transporting stolen metal, such as wheelbarrows and wheelie bins, to a secure storage area.
  • Consider installing lighting. Any lights fitted should be weather proof, inaccessible and/or vandal resistant. However avoid lighting areas that are secluded as this might make it easier for thieves to operate. See below for more information
  • Consider installing LeadLok or similar fixings to prevent easy removal of the lead.
  • Encourage neighbours to keep an eye on the building and to report any suspicious activity to the police (particularly the unexpected arrival of workmen).
  • Maximise surveillance levels, for example by cutting back tall and overhanging trees.
  • Removing any means of access for thieves to roofs, such as water butts, waste bins and tall trees located in close proximity to the building and ensure ladders are stored in a secure place.
  • Consider planting beds of dense prickly bushes or trees, for example to reinforce existing boundaries. Use wide, low beds where it is important to retain good views. There is a list of plants available from the Crime Prevention website. Many of these can be attractive to humans and wildlife as well as a deterrent.
  • Conduct regular checks of roofs so that lead theft plus any damage, is detected at the earliest opportunity rather than when rainwater enters the building causing further losses.
  • Apply anti-climb paint to drain pipes and roof guttering to restrict access to roofing. The paint should not be applied below a height of 2m, and warning notices should be displayed.
  • Apply a traceable liquid such as SmartWater which can be painted onto the lead. This leaves a signature behind which can be read by reputable metal merchants using a UV light. Installation can be done during roof work or in some cases by anyone with a long ladder such as window cleaners. You need to register your bottle to ensure the signature can be connected to you.

L is for Lighting

Lighting is an essential part of modern buildings. Following on from lead I wanted to give some additional details about outside lighting.

Outside lights can be installed for a variety of reasons:

  • Aesthetics to make the building look attractive and welcoming; to highlight a specific feature; to encourage people to come out into the garden or onto a patio.
  • Practicality and safety especially around doorways, stairs and changes of height in pathways.
  • Security in addition to the doorways mentioned above, this might include triggered lights near pathways or places of access.

Each of these requirements should be considered when you are creating a lighting design for an area – you may decide that security lighting still needs to be attractive as it is in a very visible area for example.

PIR (passive infrared) detectors are popular and relatively cheap to source and install. They can also have badly defined areas and be set off by animals and weather as well as people. More expensive set ups can collate information from the range of sensors to decide if the trigger is a false positive or should be acted on.

Larger buildings may need a more complicated system or for the lighting to be integrated into other security systems.

However you decide to light your building do consider the environmental aspects too – use timers to reduce the amount of electricity used, LED light bulbs where at all possible, be considerate to neighbours and passer-bys with angles, brightness and length of time the lights are on.

To browse through all of the posts click on the Quaker A-Z link here or in the side bar.

Quaker A-Z: J is for Juggling Roles

Juggling BallsThis is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

On the Wardenship e-List one of the perennial questions a newly appointed Trustee or member of Premises asks is:

“What does your warden do?”

As with so many things this question has as many different answers as the number of Quakers or Meetings answering!

Some the roles a warden is now fulfilling may have never been on the original job or role description – they may not be written down. Instead the job has grown organically to complement the time and skill set of the existing warden(s).

Often, it is difficult to untangle what was on the original job description and what has been added on — officially or unofficially — since the description was created or since the warden was hired. Such tangling wasn’t intentional, but can lead to amazement at what is no longer being done when the Warden or Resident Friend leaves.

Thankfully, the untangling can start with a simple decision to do so.

  • If there isn’t a clear job description than one should be drawn up.
  • If there is a Warden or Resident Friend ask them to keep a record of their tasks for a week or so.

I use HoursTracker, an app on my mobile phone, to ensure I accurately charge (and I include clients and MBS as categories here).  As I swap tasks I log in and out plus add a brief description of the tasks.

Let’s get back to answering the original question, “What does a warden do?”  My records in HoursTracker enabled me to create a mindmap which includes the following sub headings:

  • Maintenance which included Caretaking and Gardening
  • Hospitality services both for hirers and for the Meeting
  • Marketing and PR
  • Lettings Administration
  • Finance and Bookkeeping
  • Business Management and Administration
  • Website Maintenance
  • Outreach
  • General Quaker Stuff

Other Wardens/Staff responding to the question, mentioned other jobs they were expected to do, too:

  • Living in and maintaining the B&B
  • Looking after rental property including a hostel next door
  • Coordinating teams of volunteers
  • Running the TraidCraft stall every Sunday
  • Making soup for midweek Meeting for Worship

Working out how many different jobs you are are expecting your workers to juggle can help work out problems, find ways of ensuring that their time is being used appropriately and aren’t being asked to do too much.

By being mindful of the time a warden spends on jobs and the different roles in the job description, a Meeting can also create opportunities to bring in other people to help with the juggling if necessary.

Qf&P has a section on employment and ensuring they aren’t overloaded, which can be useful for management of volunteers too.

To browse through all of the posts click on the Quaker A-Z link here or in the side bar.

Do you have any more jobs to add to my list of things Wardens have been asked to do?

Quaker A-Z: I is for Inventories, Insurances and Inclusiveness

inventoryThis is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

I is for Inventories, Insurances and Inclusiveness

Inventories and Insurances

Inventories and Insurances seem to go together – Inclusiveness perhaps less so.

Insurances are of course another of those matters where I will advise that professional guidance should be sought.

Contents

If the Meeting House contains valuable antiques (furniture, books, etc.) make an inventory with photographs to help the police if they go missing; things like TV sets, videos etc. can usefully be marked indelibly with the postcode. Some insurance companies offer lower premiums if specific security precautions are taken: ask for their advice. Know where all your keys are; the police like to have a list of keyholders. Identify any problems of security which may occur when the Meeting House is actually open.
Handbook for the Care of Meeting Houses 1996

Most people when thinking of an inventory will think of a list of the contents in the Meeting House with a monetary value attached. That list of contents often has no use except as mentioned in the quote above in case of problems. That sort of inventory is very useful and should be created and maintained by Premises committees.
However, inventories also give everyone a chance to consider what is currently in the Meeting House and to decide if it meets their requirements. “Is it useful or thought to be beautiful” to paraphrase William Morris.
Clutter isn’t a good thing no matter where it is. It is easy for it to build up in cupboards and rooms and not been seen by the regular users. Digging through the cupboards and creating space may enable the meeting to give away excess to bless someone or somewhere else or inspire an activity to use some of these materials up.
This is also a chance to work out which items/records are not needed any more, should be archived somewhere else or to realise which have been moved somewhere else and either be retrieved or that location noted. For example the discovery that one meeting’s financial records were held in an office where an ex-treasurer’s father-in-law used to work before he retired…
As a warden I more than once decided that I was indirectly decluttering other people’s houses by creating space in the Meeting House. As once shelves were cleared people felt able to bring in more records or files.
Do remember that some files and records should be stored securely without easy public access.

Inclusiveness

Inclusiveness is another complicated subject – it is important to ensure we remember that each person will have their own requirements and wants when it comes to being included. These wants and needs will change as they go through life, but thankfully so many features put in for one person or group can be used or enhance the usage of the building and grounds by others.

For more spiritual resources I do recommend Qf&P Chapter 10 “Belonging to a Quaker Meeting” especially 10.20 where George Gorman muses about how religion is about relationships between people…

But in this post I’m going to talk about ways to ensure that all members of the Meeting feel valued and included.

Some building changes will be more expensive and time consuming…

You Tube video of sesame steps

But thankfully ensuring the meeting and its building are inclusive to all members doesn’t mean just wheelchair ramps. I mentioned these sorts of things in E is for Equality with concern about the Equality Act for 2010.

To quote the beginning of Advices & Queries 18

How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome?

and to paraphrase the meaning of Qf&P 10.10 where Peggy McGeoghegan says “If we take seriously the nurture of our children in the worshipping group, we must start by re-appraising the whole life of the group.”

  • Could someone who is smaller or less able than others open the gate to come into the garden or enter the building?
  • Once inside could they (where it is safe) reach the interior door handles and locks?
  • Do you have appropriate cups, crockery for children and are various dietary requirements considered during your refreshments?
  • Do you have left handed scissors and kitchen tools?
  • Is there a large text version of Qf&P or other leaflets available? Or magnifying sheets?
  • During notices do you ensure that Quaker jargon is clarified?

This can mean ensuring that coat hooks are low enough for children to reach, that foot stools for sinks and hassocks for chairs are available for anyone who needs them; that handles and soap dispensers are easily used by those lacking mobility and of course that signage is good.

Balby Meeting have produced an introductory leaflet which explains in simple language about the meeting, photos and names of its members – including guide dog Cassie. The leaflet also has brief descriptions of what might happen when you visit.

  • Does your meeting consider all members when reappraising both the building and the life of the meeting?
  • What has your meeting done that worked well?

To browse through all of the posts click on the Quaker A-Z link here or in the side bar.

Welcome!

What is a remote or virtual meeting house manager?

  • I am a self employed contractor specialising in management and administration – for  meeting houses, for committees and others.
  • Remote professional office management and services for Quaker Meeting Houses and other small businesses.
  • Fully fitted modern office – using my own up to date equipment and software.

You might need a remote business administrator or virtual meeting house manager if:

  • You have lots of ideas – but need help to implement them.
  • You want help in marketing, administration or other aspects of your business.
  • You want to develop the business side of the meeting house to raise funds, without sacrificing local Quaker usage and skills.
  • You already outsource cleaning, gardening, bookkeeping and are now considering doing the same with the lettings or other administration.
  • You don’t want to employ someone, but need help to do the above.
  • You aren’t sure how many hours the job might take, so want a flexible arrangement.

How does it work?

  • Using modern technology I deal with emails, phone calls, faxes from my own office, have meetings over Skype or other meeting facilities.
  • Depending on your telephone contract you can put a redirect on your phone to me.
  • Work can be transferred electronically, through recorded post or personal courier – I can easily meet people at Friends House in central London.
  • I work the hours you need when you need them – you don’t pay holiday, sick pay or coffee breaks!
  • As a sole trader I am responsible for all financial and legislative requirements.
  • You are protected by a contract which shows that you are not my employer.
  • While I work normal office hours, I will also cover evening and Sunday afternoon business meetings at the standard charge.

Why use a virtual meeting house manager?

  • There isn’t space in the building for an office or you want to maintain flexible use of the building.
  • You don’t want to invest in equipment and training, or deal with payroll or pensions.
  • You want to build a relationship with someone who also has an investment in your business – obviously the better you are doing the more work there is for me!
  • By using me you will not need to explain Quaker jargon or business procedures to numerous temps.
  • It is easier to maintain a relationship between hirers and the office.
  • You want to hold a one off event (outreach, fund raising or building project) and want some guidance or just need an extra pair of hands.
  • Your current Wardening or administration arrangement needs some extra support – things have become busier, or possibly to cover maternity/paternity leave, holidays, sick leave or a break between wardens.

What sort of jobs can I do?

  • Clarify ideas, help design and research specifications for and in other ways support your meeting to create a Business or Development Plan including Marketing.
  • Write reports, manuals and policies for your Meeting House or committees, plus newsletters for users.
  • Lettings administration: Dealing with phone calls, emails, postal correspondence, raising invoices, invoicing.
  • Book keeping (including the Sharman Excel Spreadsheets), and liaison with treasurer.
  • Researching items/services for the committee to read and decide on.
  • Negotiating with clients re dates/availability
  • Project management & other jobs as needed and agreed.
  • I also do similar administrative support for other small businesses.