Our CEO, Susan Davies reflects on the changes that the first 30 days of closure have brought to the Scottish Seabird Centre and home life.
COVID19 has affected us all – as businesses, communities, families and individuals. It has sadly led the Scottish Seabird Centre into an extremely unsettling and turbulent financial period.
Tracking Scottish Government advice closely we took the decision to close the Scottish Seabird Centre doors on the 19th March 2020, for the safety and well-being of our staff, volunteers and visitors. Thank you to all our members and visitors for their support in the lead up to our closure – your kind words about the Centre and staff team meant a lot to us.
As guidance emerged on the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, we took steps to “furlough” our customer facing staff – 23 people (4 full time and 19 seasonal). We also moved those who could still undertake desk-based activities to homeworking. That brought its own challenges as we don’t have the financial resources to give everyone laptops and we can’t afford the costs of setting up remote access for everyone to our main systems. Our team largely relied on their own personal resources to be able to set up as homeworkers. They adapted quickly – learning new ways of accessing information and new ways of communicating through online video digital platforms. To minimise our outgoings further we took the subsequent step of furloughing our learning team and office staff – a further 7 people (mainly part-time) in mid-April.
Our visitor centre is one of the main sources of income underpinning our Charity so we immediately felt the impact of COVID19. With no prospect of reopening soon it means that we lose the income from the busiest part of the tourism season – income that usually helps to carry our charitable activities on through the quieter winter months. Understandably, many people who had pre-booked wildlife experience boat trips have requested refunds; although some have donated their booking fees or sought to rearrange a trip to a later date – thank you. The impact of both the closure of the Centre and loss of advance boat bookings income is having a severe impact on our cashflow.
We are working hard to tap into business funding support as it becomes available, but there are two challenges here. The first is that we are not be eligible for much of it, for a variety of reasons, and the second is that funding support is often a ‘loan’ which just places further debt on our Charity’s books. That said some of our funders, such as William Grant Foundation and Robertson Trust, were quick to offer flexibility in their grant support to try to help Charities like ours through these times. Their enlightened and proactive approach is greatly appreciated. Scottish Natural Heritage have also adapted their funding approach, allowing us to pull out of one project and re-direct our resources into producing online learning materials.
In mid April we received the good news that we had been awarded a £30k grant and a £70k loan from the Third Sector Business Resilience Fund. I suspect that many people don’t appreciate that we are a small Charity and some even think that we are a wealthy local business. The situation is far from that – we have to work extremely hard to fundraise to support our charitable activities, including the recent refurbishment of the Centre and supporting our learning and outreach activities.
The upside of COVID19 for me is that it has brought out the very best in our team. The absolute commitment and support seen from our Trustees, staff and volunteers, to help us pave a way through the financial challenges we face is at times overwhelming. There is compassion, humour and sharing of stories and advice across the team on a regular basis. Some of our staff team are able to help support the community resilience efforts within their local hometowns. Examples include, coordinating volunteers, befriending and responding to individual requests for support with provisions or medicines. The Charity has also donated food, which we cannot use in our café now, to a local food bank. Individually small contributions, but I hope nonetheless appreciated.
Day to day life
The other adjustment is at a more personal level. Despite the financial challenges that our Charity is faced with I have found more time to get out doors in our local patch than in a normal working week. With meetings, travel and evening events all on hold it has created more ‘free-time’ in a day. Also, with the good weather we’ve recently had there’s been no excuse not to get out for the advised daily health walk. Those that know me well, know that I am also an advocate of the physical and mental health benefits of being outdoors – even although I may not always make time to practice what I preach!
We have enjoyed re-connecting with nature as we’ve explored new routes around our home area. Taking a walk to our local harbour (Dunbar) and seeing and hearing the kittiwakes on the cliffs there remains a special experience. Although it is sad to see the local fishing boats tied up with the outlets for their produce closed. Exploring our local woodlands, listening to birdsong and watching our woodlands, roadside verges and clifftops burst into life as Spring progresses, all help to bring a sense of normality at a time when nothing really feels normal. We’ve also started paying more attention to the detail of the farmers’ operations in nearby fields – busy sowing their spring crops to keep feeding us all. A reminder of the importance of buying locally and sustainably, both now and when life gets back to a ‘new’ normality.
Support for the Scottish Seabird Centre
I, and our team, are passionate about the work that our Charity does. We are a 5-star visitor attraction, with an exciting all new discovery experience that tells the story about Scotland’s seabirds and wider marine environment. We are also a local community resource – providing space for people to meet socially, for fun-science based events and for indoor and outdoor learning. Our recent investment built on the original vision of Community Councillor – Mr Bill Gardner MBE to connect people with wildlife through new technology. We want to continue that vision in today’s world.
I believe that we have a vital role to play now and into the future – continuing the legacy of our Charity – and we are going to need to have your support. I hope that people will get behind us in the coming weeks/months.
Susan Davies, CEO