Changes in pricing and a review of SHARPs budget
Some of you may have noticed that on the website we have changed our pricing, and even our pricing structure. There are several reasons for this so we thought we would write a blog to explain some of our thinking, so that we can be more open with our members.
At the last AGM a new committee was voted in, and this committee has been busy investigating and evaluating past bookings and finances for the last few years. This was urged by the current team, feedback at the AGM and in the feedback given via the questionnaire. This review has been much neglected over the years, but the committee aim to repeat this each year going forward as the site and budget changes, especially as we become more sustainable. The review showed several factors that are impacting our finances, while also highlighted changes to the type bookings made with SHARP. We have used this information gathered to launch our new pricing structure this year.
Our costs and budgeting
The review has shown that over the years our biggest expenses have changed. It once was the catering and catering team that was our biggest expense. There have been suggestions that we should perhaps change from this model, so the committee has indeed reviewed and considered this. However, the research we have done has shown that no other method, including off-site catering, will offer the same quality for the same or less cost, plus we now know that selling the kitchen and kitchen equipment would unlikely provide enough long term benefit, and the committee feels it would make SHARP less resilient going forward, and more dependent on price fluctuations.
We have already cut costs, such as reducing the number of cabins we hire like those hired in 2022. The kitchen staff have also become even more efficient when doing their pre and post season cleans, where every inch of the kitchen is cleaned (something people rarely get to see).
Instead, the review has shown that our biggest expense is actually the hire costs of plant (toilets/showers/electric system and cabins). It’s not the weekly hire costs themselves but the delivery charges that have increased significantly over the last 5 years. The generator hire plus fuel was last year replaced by the solar array hire, both these systems alone make up a quarter of our expenses. Another large chunk of our income is spent on essential facilities (toilets, portaloos, and showers). Last year we reduced costs by removing the hire of the teaching cabin and extra offices as the delivery charge was more than the cost of the cabin hire themselves and in previous years they were not fully used. There are other regular costs that we also have to factor in.
As well as the general hire we also have to factor in costs for training, such as first aid, the costs of digger hire for new trenches, and venue hire and expenses for courses or other activities.
This increase in hire costs is unlikely to reduce in the future, so we are looking at purchasing units and our own power system to remove these expenses. We are also looking into purchasing more canvas tents to provide working spaces, reducing the hire and delivery costs further, and providing flexible working spaces for all activities.
We will be hiring solar again this year, but are working on a funding bid to purchase our own solar system for the 2025 season.
Who is attending SHARP
This has been a very interesting part of the review. Over the last 5-10 years the nature of those attending SHARP has changed quite a bit; this is related to lots of different factors and may change going forward. The biggest change has been the steady increase in off-site bookings, they still are not quite the majority, but this has made a big difference to the income. Even within this generalisation there are differences, we tend to have more excavation volunteers who stay onsite, but both Human Remain volunteers and those booking courses tend to be staying off-site.
SHARP has always been keen to help people from all backgrounds, and therefore we have always offered a very flexible concessions rate which includes students, OAPs, and also unwaged/low waged persons. However last year it was clear that this applied to practically everyone booking, with over 92% of bookings being concessions.
Change in prices and structure
Our pricing structure has remained the same for a long time and has not been assessed recently to ensure that all our expenses are covered. In practical terms this means that everyone, including off-site bookings, should be paying for their share of the costs of things related to the main site facilities that everyone uses, i.e. toilets, utilities, land hire, and lunch, and that on-site bookers are paying a little extra to cover for the facilities only they use, i.e. shower block hire and evening meals.
So this year we have done an extensive budget to ensure that this is actually the case. We found that over the past 10 years there has been a discrepancy between price changes for off-site vs on-site which meant that the basic rate has had to change.
We wanted to be sure that we are still offering value for money and a quick review of other excavation opportunities has shown we are still very competitive and cheaper than many other excavation summer schools that charge £75 per day or £300-350 a week (5 days) without accommodation. Some places like Vindolanda in Northumberland may appear cheaper but they require you to become a member and to book two weeks (offering only 10 days compared to our 12). We also provide lunch for all bookings.
For each activity we have separated the base rate from the on-site camping and meals. We hope we have therefore made the pricing structure clearer, indicating what you get for your booking. Last year, several off-site bookings asked whether they could pay for meals and too this has been incorporated into the booking process this year. So if you are staying in a hotel but would like to join us for all our meals you can simply choose that option. You can still request to join us for meals on specific days by talking to the catering manager during the season.
Many will notice that there is no longer a concessions rate, this is probably the biggest change. SHARP has calculated the rate so that we break even, and therefore we are offering this concessions rate to everyone equally. If you feel you can give more, then we have various donation options available on the website, and we are working on putting together a new donations and fundraising page for this purpose. Any donations made will go towards bursaries, post-excavation costs, and our future sustainability plans.
The SHARP committee are also committed to increasing the John Hensby bursary fund pot, as such we will be adding any gift aid donations to this fund each year. We are also looking at getting funding to provide even more bursaries for those unable to pay the full fees so please keep a lookout for an announcement about these opportunities soon.