BEN Charity shares its Strategic Changes with Fellowship members

BEN, our motor trade charity, recently unveiled a new strategy for its future activities.  Somewhat controversially, in some peoples’ minds, was the announcement that the four care facilities currently operated by BEN will be transferred to alternative care providers. In order to understand more clearly BEN’s thinking on that and on its’ future role, the Committee of the Fellowship of the Motor Industry invited BEN’s Chairman, Steve Nash, to meet them and discuss the situation fully. The meeting took place at the Committee’s January meeting, with Steve Nash participating via a video link.  Following the meeting, Steve and Zara Ross, BEN’s CEO, provided this briefing note for Fellowship members’ information.


Briefing for Fellowship of the Motor Industry members re Ben Charity’s Future Strategy (2024-2030)

Executive Summary

Ben has been providing support for people working in the automotive industry for 118 years, since its founding in 1905. During 2023, Ben’s Board of Trustees undertook a detailed review of the charity’s activities in the past 5 years. Two summary headlines emerged in relation to our two service areas:

  • Whilst Ben’s Health & Wellbeing (HWB) Services have met rising industry demands (by c25+%) year on year, the continued growth of needs amongst for our automotive family demands consideration of both the scale and nature of the support services we offer.
  • Ben’s redesigned and improved care and village services are highly valued by those who receive them, are of demonstrable quality and have made significant financial progress. However, major shifts in the care industry, and reduced numbers of automotive-connected individuals now being supported by our services, result in questions as to whether delivery of these services continue to be central to Ben’s core purpose.

The evidence and insights from the 2018-2023 period have required Ben’s Trustee Board to face some very challenging decisions about the priorities for the next period and these are reflected in our new strategy.

In summary our strategy for the period 2024 – 2030 is:

  • To double or triple Ben’s charitable impact comprising:
    • A Heightened focus on awareness so that at least 1:3 automotive people (up from 1:5) are aware of their industry charity and the support we offer to them and their family dependents,
    • Greater emphasis on prevention programmes to reduce the potential for individuals to need more intensive reactive support, and
    • Continued scaling up of existing excellent reactive support programmes.
  • To raise more funds from the automotive industry, both individuals and corporates, to enable this ambitious growth in impact,
  • To allow this focus and investment the Board has decided that now is the time to transfer our Care and Village services to the stewardship of new operators.

Overview of strategic review insights, implications and outcomes

The paragraphs below set out the key insights from the strategic review followed by the implications and outcomes drawn from them.

Rising demand for Ben’s Health & Wellbeing services

 Over the 2018-2023 period Ben shifted from simply providing welfare grants to being a health & wellbeing (HWB) service provider, seeking to address wider personal challenges as well as providing financial support where appropriate. The aftermath of the global pandemic, a tough economic climate and high levels of change and uncertainty across the industry has seen Ben facing a year on year increase in service demand.  This year, to March 2024, we will have met our highest level of service demand to date. Some examples of the growth in service delivery include:

  • A 315% increase in Helpline enquiries with more than 15,000 enquiries managed in this year alone (March 2024 projection).
  • A 200% increase in the number of individuals supported, with nearly 14,000 supported since 2018 and 3,600 in this year alone (March 2024 projection)
  • A 75% increase in the level of financial assistance through urgent need and welfare grants in the last 2 years alone as people struggle to make ends meet and become at risk of homelessness, failure to pay utility bills and face food poverty

Despite the growth in our service delivery, and doubling our charitable spend to meet these needs, our insight suggests that there is so much more to be done.

  • The pace of change in the industry is unlikely to relent in the foreseeable future adding to existing stress and pressure amongst the workforce.
  • With an ageing workforce, and rising levels of obesity (UK projection 60% for adult males, 50% for adult females), chronic ill-health is on the rise (e.g. diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, chronic pain etc)
  • There are around 800,000 individuals working in the industry today, and despite the industry working hard to make progress with Equality, Diversity and Inclusion EDI) it is still a heavily male dominated environment (circa 70%) which brings challenges and risks with men typically being less inclined to reach out for support and up to 3 times more likely to take their own life.
  • Our research suggests that twice as many people in the industry are struggling with mental health vs the UK average (and 60% of those currently reaching out to Ben are receiving support for their mental health alongside other health, wellbeing or other life issues).
  • We estimate that only 1:5 of those who work in the industry are aware of Ben, their industry charity, and the support we can provide to them and their family dependents.

The need for heightened awareness about Ben’s work in the industry is key, and this, along with increases in Ben’s HWB service levels require significant, targeted investment. Scaling up Ben’s charitable spend by 10% growth p.a. until 2030 would cost Ben £16.8m cumulatively (£4.0m in 2030) and 20% growth p.a. would cost Ben £29.2m cumulatively (£6.8m in 2030).

In the past 5 years, with net fundraising achieving c£2.0m – £2.5m p.a. Ben’s voluntary income levels have not kept pace with the service needs, despite the number of actively engaged employer partners almost trebling in that period (now c600 employers). ‘Active engagement’ ranges from those providing ‘corporate donations’, using or promoting Ben’s services and/or encouraging their employees’ fundraising participation. Despite the generosity in cash and kind of automotive companies and individuals in the past 3 years, converting industry relationships to charitable income remains challenging, with only 50% Ben’s corporate partners making donations in the past year. The changing external environment demands Ben takes different actions.

Reduced demand by auto-connected people for Ben’s care, community & village services

Ben’s small portfolio of 3 care homes (188 beds), a retirement village (154 dwellings) and a small daycare centre all experienced significant changes in the 2018-2023 period. Despite Covid’s challenges to occupancy, income and staffing levels for a period, performance improved overall.

These services operate in the context of huge reductions in state funding to support nursing and social care provision over the last 70 years. This has meant that in the past 25 years the charity has aimed to increase its fee-paying residents from the wider population, who now considerably out-number automotive residents. Care residents are typically choosing care homes based on locality, near to their current homes or their families, rather than industry or other affiliations.  The fact that Ben is a charity supporting the automotive industry did not feature highly in the decisions people made to choose our care homes, despite the fact that Ben continues to provide a financial subsidy to a small number of qualifying industry-connected individuals in financial need. All of these shifts have impacted the proportion of older automotive-connected people in Ben’s care homes – and as part of the strategic review, this in turn has generated questions about the charity’s focus and core purpose for the next period.

Adapting Ben’s services as the needs of the automotive industry change

Ben’s Trustees considered how the charity has adapted and evolved its services to remain relevant to the automotive industry in the last century, from providing an orphanage between World War I and II for industry children, to establishing care home places for older automotive people, before the founding of the NHS or the availability of National Assistance. They recognised the focus on older industry retirees had been a major part of the charity’s delivery on its purpose for 70 years.

The Board reflected on the impact of today’s rapidly changing work environment for automotive industry people with associated issues and challenges arising for them as a result. After several month’s consideration Ben Board decided an evolved Vision, Purpose, and Mission required a refocus of our future services and the support we will provide, given our constrained resources.

Ben’s revised Vision, Mission and Purpose

After reflection, Ben’s Board approved an update in Ben’s Vision, Purpose and Mission, as follows:

Ben’s Vision:     An automotive family that thinks well, feels well, lives well, and works well.

Ben’s Purpose: Empowering our automotive family to live their best lives.

Ben’s Mission:  Provide support for life for automotive people and their family dependants.

Partner with automotive employers to build a resilient and motivated workforce.

Champion and influence positive change for the automotive industry.

In the light of these revisions, the Board concluded that over the next strategic period there should be a heightened focus on awareness, service delivery and prevention programmes to address the health and wellbeing needs of working industry people and their family dependants.

The Board also concluded that given the evidence, Ben’s care, community and village services would not be viewed as part of our ‘core purpose’ in the future. Consequently, the Board, supported by Ben’s Executive team, unanimously concluded that now is the right time to consider the transfer of these services to the stewardship of new operators. The Board and Executive team anticipate that the transfer of these services to quality operators will ensure these services and colleagues have the very best opportunity to flourish and develop going forward.

This decision to recommend the sale of our care, community and village services has been taken after careful consideration, since they have been an integral and valued part of the charity for a long time. Both the Ben Board and its Executive team are extremely proud of these services and the very positive reputation they have achieved over many years. In the last five years in particular, our care, community, and village teams have worked tirelessly to deliver key changes and improvements with their commitment to providing person-centred care and support.

The next period

We are currently formulating HWB plans to deliver against our strategic ambition and will share further detailed information about this over the next few months.

Meanwhile, Ben will be working with Christie & Co, (specialist care and retirement community advisors) to find new, quality operators to purchase our three CQC-registered care homes and retirement village. During this process our primary focus will be on the continuity and quality of care, community, and village services, and we will continue to communicate with all Ben’s service users and colleagues as further information becomes available. For the immediate future, our services will continue to provide compassionate support and person-centred care for our residents, including continuing the financial subsidy for those currently receiving this.

The Board is aware that recommending a move away from direct delivery of care, community and village services is a significant change and we understand this may generate many questions, therefore I and my senior colleagues at Ben would be happy to address any questions arising.  In short, these changes, once completed, will enable Ben to have a single mission focus to deliver against its revised Vision and Purpose.  They will also enable any proceeds from the sale of the care homes and retirement village to be invested so as to help underpin future HWB service delivery.  However, the Board is cognisant of the fact that considerable financial support from automotive industry providers will continue to be needed if we are to achieve our ambition to treble our charitable impact over the next 5 years in response to demand.

We are committed to working through this period of transition with integrity and respect for everyone.  We are at a very early stage in this significant transformation process and will therefore provide further updates as the situation progresses.

We want to reiterate our thanks and appreciation to members of the Fellowship of the Motor Industry for their continued moral and financial support for Ben over many decades. The Fellowship have raised awareness and funds for the charity through good times and bad. We regard the Fellowship as a valued partner, sharing Ben’s objectives to improve the lives of automotive people in these challenging and complex times for our industry. We look forward to providing more detail to Fellowship members about Ben’s future plans in the months ahead.

Zara Ross

CEO, Ben

BEN’s CEO, Zara Ross, (centre) with Fellowship President Peter Lewis-Jones (L) and vice-Chairman Peter Cottle, at the Fellowship’s 2023 ATJ Classic Car Show.