LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: Utass chairman Richard Matthews, right, and Bob Danby              TM pic
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: Utass chairman Richard Matthews, right, and Bob Danby TM pic

THE financial position of a Teesdale agricultural charity is “rosy” but steps are being taken to put it on a firmer long-term footing because of a funding “cliff edge”.

Utass (Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services) is nearly half way through a £314,933 four-year Lottery grant.

But at the annual meeting last week, Utass project manager Bob Danby said: “In the third year, funding from the grant drops off substantially. The accounts are looking very rosy but there is a cliff edge this year, so we are looking at sustainability and raising money.”

The finance report showed that as of December 31, 2020, the charity had £273,748 in the bank – up from about £50,000 from the previous year.

However, Utass needs more than £200,000 to keep the charity going every year.

Trustees have already employed Grace Crawford to come up with ideas to bring in more cash and funding. Mr Danby said she was already making an impact.

Utass is also making savings by using less paper for communications and instead sending emails. Farm training courses are also now generating an income.

“We are never going to be completely self-sustainable but we will become more sustainable,” added Utass chairman Richard Matthews.

As well as helping farmers with advice sessions and fill out complex farm subsidy forms, other vital work done this year includes organising training, youth work, social get-togethers and trips, entertainment and theatre performances and lunches for retired farmers.

The charity’s offices also provide services to the community such as post office facilities, citizens advice and exercise sessions, as well as internet access and photocopying for the community.

Utass also works with the police to tackle rural crime and provides a community minibus.

Among a number of staff changes at the charity, Diane Spark, project officer, had also gained a part-time role with the Prince’s Countryside Fund which she will carry out along with her work at Utass.

Mr Danby praised the work of staff and volunteers, explaining that the work on the next basic payment subsidies opened this week.

“That’s a lot of responsibility for staff. If they get it wrong, it could mean the end of a business,” he added.

Carl Stephenson, who farms at Woodland, thanked staff on behalf of Utass members.

“We are still the envy of the whole country. Everybody would love a Utass but we are the only one with Utass,” said Mr Stephenson.