Interview: Mark helps charities survive through tough times

Mark Ereira-Guyer
Mark Ereira-Guyer
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With their cash flow from central Government evaporating, times are tough for charities and it is Mark Ereira-Guyer’s job to help them survive.

Offering advice, development and fund-raising support through his consultancy businesses, he warns that voluntary and community groups have to be savvy to stay afloat.

“The Government used to run a range of really focused grant schemes and monies that the charitable sector could bid for,” he says from his office in Bury St Edmunds.

“That’s all gone because of the deficit reduction so people have got to be really focused and get all their ducks in a row. If they’re not in that place, they’re not going to survive and certainly not thrive.

“Often they’re just focused on delivery which is great but you’ve got to sometimes say ‘is it doing what it should be doing, at a reasonable cost and using staff and volunteers in the best possible way?’ I get involved a lot with that.”

Through his firm ‘eg:consulting’, he has trouble-shooted for 57 organisations over seven years including drug and alcohol charity Open Road and Suffolk Family Carers and raised £6,470,248 in grants, donations and bids. Meanwhile, he has enlisted the support of celebrities such as Joanna Lumley and Helen Mirren.

In this age of austerity, is it becoming harder to secure funding?

“That always feels quite hairy because I’m obviously always trying to do my best but it’s really really competitive for money and resources in a way that it never was before.

“When I set up the consultancy business it was a golden era but that isn’t where we are now.

“I have to do quite a lot of work with chief executives and directors – morale boosting and keeping them engaged with the task because coming down the track they know there’s just more financial retrenchment which often means their income from local authority will be cut.”

In response to Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ agenda, he co-founded a company to help financially vulnerable groups.

Among their clients, The Big Society Community Interest Company secured a £1 million Heritage Lottery grant for Cambridgeshire ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) and funds for Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality.

He says: “Big Society is about how we in a community work together for the best for our community. I do like the idea of Big Society – people getting up and doing things.”

Brought up in East Anglia, Mr Ereira-Guyer has always been committed to community action – working early in his career for the Home Office, in Lewisham, to tackle inner city crime.

He remembers: “That brought me into contact with diverse organisations particularly from black and minority ethnic groups.

“I thought can I make a living out of doing things that are socially useful and good for society. I’ve always taken a view that a small group of individuals can change things for the good.”

He later joined Suffolk ACRE, heading up its community development work across the rural county before leading a grants programme across the East of England for Lloyds TSB Foundation.

One of his most notable roles was chief executive of the Action for Brazil Children’s Trust, which raises money to support and protect street children in Brazil ‘abandoned by the industrialised process of modern life’.

When he set up its office, in St John’s Street, Bury, the charity had one employee.

Mr Ereira-Guyer says: “We had five by the time I left. We had 40 odd volunteers and 12 projects helping young people. We were providing shelter, food and trying to help with learning skills.”

He visited the slums of Brazil numerous times – ‘quite fearsome places in huge poverty’ – and managed to recruit Queen guitarist Brian May and actor Jeremy Irons as patrons. They joined the ranks of Jimmy Page and Pele.

The charity later expanded to London, which is when he decided to go freelance.

Based on his experience, he says charities should strive for independence but the state has a role to play.

“Charities have got to be business-like but hold on to their mission and drive. Their independence from the state is vital. The state needs to provide some of the finance – without core financial support they can’t then do things with consultants like me.”