New trust chairman taking the long view

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Help for the long term is a focus for the new chairman of the Otago Community Trust.
John Wilson, of Wanaka, said starting his role last month in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic had been an interesting experience.

The country was entering unprecedented times, but with a robust investment portfolio the trust had a good level of accumulated-income reserves in place to support Otago, as well as a dedicated team to help manage the way through uncertain times, he said.

Its $2 million Covid-19 Response Fund opened in early April.
‘‘It came about because we wanted to ensure we could respond quickly to the unexpected needs Covid put on us.’’

The response fund had specific criteria applicants had to meet to apply for funds.
‘‘It was for organisations that were experiencing increased cost or increased demands due to Covid.’’

As well as its quick response to the pandemic, the trust aimed to provide funds rapidly.
‘‘The subcommittee met every week, so we were turning those grants round within five days.’’

The response fund to date has granted more than $580,000 to more than 45 community organisations.

Some organisations, such as Youthline Otago and Methodist Mission, have been able to apply for more than one grant, given the expansion of services that have resulted from the pandemic.

The experience of the Rata Foundation, which set up a $25 million fund to assist with the social and economic impact of the Christchurch earthquakes, was a helpful guide for Mr Wilson.

There had been good central and local government support to get through the immediate needs of the pandemic, he said.

‘‘What we want to be focusing on is that transition into the new normal, and the experience from Rata is there is quite a demand six, 12, 18 months after an event as the impact flows through and some of that government money begins to not be as readily available.’’

The response fund might in future remain as a separate fund or it might become incorporated into ‘‘the new normal’’, he said.
‘‘It would be up to the trustees to decide.’’

However, the trust was very lucky that ithad a conservative portfolio that was sitting on a good number of reserves ‘‘for exactly these types of situations where investment markets are weak and volatile’’, he said.
‘‘We can look to still have a good amount of funds available for granting purposes.’’