Letchworth Heritage Foundation: ‘We want to stand side-by-side with our tenants’

CEO Graham Fisher is expecting 'profound' changes to the foundation's approach. Picture: Brian Petty

CEO Graham Fisher is expecting 'profound' changes to the foundation's approach. Picture: Brian Petty - Credit: Archant

Letchworth Heritage Foundation CEO Graham Fisher has spoken to The Comet about the organisation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – and how it might be changed in a post-COVID world.

We have found the pandemic to be a world of two extremes. On the one hand, we have seen the rapid mobilisation of our Letchworth Community Response Service.

It has been unbelievable how quickly this came together, and we’ve seen a real sense of people and organisations working as one. It is easy to be sceptical about how long it takes to set these things up, but we have managed to put the service in place so quickly, you almost wouldn’t believe it was possible.

It’s a credit to the amazing spirit of the town, and the culture of everyone mucking in together in the face of adversity, rolling up their sleeves, and saying OK, what can I do to help?

On the other hand, we at the foundation remain hugely anxious about where our income is, and where our future lies. We are a reasonably significant landlord of offices and retail units, and they are all empty. A large number of workers have been furloughed, and it is possible that the world of work is never going to be the same again.

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As part of this profound change, we have realised how important it will now be to work side-by-side with our businesses and tenants – who themselves have no income.

We have a real sense now that we need to understand individual business recovery plans, and allow flexibility, working with tenants to work out the best way forward for them over a longer period of time.

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Of course, we have hundreds of tenants, and you can imagine how time-consuming it will be to have all these conversations – but we believe this is the right approach.

We also need to think about what the future holds for the foundation. We have benefitted from some welcome business rate relief, but we are still down 50 per cent compared to our budget. The loss of income from the farm and the cinema has been very damaging – almost £2 million – and we have given our small and medium-sized businesses a three-month rent holiday, meaning a reduction in the receipt of rent payments.

All of this means that the foundation is likely to see some significant changes, and we will have to cut the cloth accordingly.

Over the coming months, we will know more about what the future holds for our Heritage Foundation.

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