A review of the Charity Commission’s website describes the Dulwich Estate’s activities as managing ‘the endowment assets of the charity in the long-term interests of all the beneficiaries of the charity. This is measured by the increase in the annual income distribution to the beneficiaries and the maintenance of the value of net assets.’ Last year’s accounts, available on the Estate’s website, generally makes for positive reading and confirms that it generally does exactly that, though the beneficiaries’ income in the year 2018-19 was reduced over previous years - from £7.8m down to £7.2m. £6.0m of this went to the three Dulwich foundation schools, £1.0m to the other schools that the charity supports, £110,000 to the Almshouse Charity and £30,000 to Christ's Chapel.
Going into the figures in more detail throws up some interesting facts. Property rental income (which is still almost entirely from Dulwich residential and commercial property) contributed 81% of the £11.5m total income, the Tollgate 2% and investments the balance of 17%. Staff costs (including NI and pension contributions) were down from £2.0m to £1.8m, largely as a result of reduced pension contributions - average staff numbers were up slightly at 29 (27 last year).
The College Road tollgate income (before running costs) reached a high point in 2018 with receipts of £294,000. The figures for 2018-19 show a 30% fall to £201,000 - are traffic levels declining or has the rise in price to £1.20 been a step too far? The ‘profit’ after running expenses for 2018-19 was £59,000 compared with £126,000 the previous year.
The Estate’s website also expands on the Charity Commission ‘activities’ to include ‘maintaining the vibrant neighbourhoods unique to Dulwich’ and confirms that it is ‘committed to building relationships with residents, tenants, customers, schools and communities.’ Since the appointment of a new CEO, some welcome changes
have been made. The introduction of regular monthly surgeries, the quarterly newsletter, the development of the new Village orchard, and the new information signs to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the foundation are clearly improvements. The same goes for the relocation of the Scheme of Management office to the Old College - which has meant longer office opening times and has also freed up the Old Grammar School for use by the alms-house residents.
On other changes the jury is still out. Staff restructuring is leading to some problems in the maintenance of the 1950s and 60s estates; it has taken nearly three years for a new convenience store to open in the Village and, regrettably, there appears to be no apparent improvement in the Estate’s working relationship with Southwark Council. However, perhaps the main concern remains communication. There have been complaints that there is no follow-up on items discussed at the monthly surgeries, and even the Society has problems in getting answers to genuine queries. Some are relatively minor, such as why has it taken over a year for the Estate’s Surveyors to start to repair the cracked pier in the Burial Ground wall? Others are more substantial such as why the Estate is not pursuing the redevelopment of the Grove Tavern site when it has acknowledged that, after several years of discussion, there is a tacit understanding in place with the Council. Why should one of the main gateways into Dulwich continue to look derelict?
But, perhaps the most crucial question is why the Estate has not been more proactive in dealing with breaches of the Scheme of Management? The Society’s view is that the Scheme is a good thing in principle but it is pointless without speedy and equitable enforcement.