Andrew Brown – local conservationist
By Bardia Khorshidian
This first appeared in the February issue
British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV),
Andrew Brown is a leading conservationist specialising in charity governance. A founding member of the BTCV, he served as chairman for five years and now holds the honorary title of BTCV Vice-President, a privilege afforded to only a handful of other conservationists, including Sir David Attenborough, Professor David Bellamy and Bill Oddie. Mr Brown has been a trustee of six charities, including Finchley’s own Avenue House Estate Trust, which celebrated its 150th anniversary last year.
Andrew grew up in Newark, Nottinghamshire, where he cultivated a passion for the great outdoors, helping out at his uncle’s farm. A keen scout, he was the first person in his home town to win the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award and, as a Queen’s Scout, he also participated in the 11th World Jamboree on the plains of Marathon, in Greece.
He stayed with the movement until he went to college to take a foundation course in art. He went on to study industrial design at the Central School of Art and Design, now Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design. In 1964 he joined the Conservation Corps (now the BTCV), at that time a fledgling operation. Mr Brown explained that his passion for scouting and conservation work stemmed from a drive towards self-improvement as well to benefit the community.
“Voluntary work is something in which I believe profoundly,” he said. “It’s an effective and economic way of getting a job done, often to a very high standard; it’s good for the community that people take a voluntary-minded spirit to community affairs; and it’s very good for the individual in terms of learning skills and teaching people to live and work with one another.”
As Mr Brown continued to work with BTCV, he discovered that conservation work had even more to offer: “Since BTCV was growing so rapidly there was always something new to learn. I started off learning how to use a billhook to chop down rhododendrons; later I’m learning about charity law, company mergers, pension schemes and all sorts of things. So, as BTCV grew, I grew.”
While chairman of BTCV Mr Brown saw turnover double from £12 to £25 million. “I can’t take all the credit but I have always believed in applying expansionist principles to voluntary work and in enabling local people to take the initiative.” This attitude is supported by what he considers his greatest achievement while managing the charity: the Local Groups Affiliation Scheme, which encourages local people to take conservation into their own hands. Mr Brown also established The Chestnut Fund, an independent grant-giving body set up to provide local start-up groups with funds for tools, training and insurance. The affiliation scheme enabled conservation volunteering to grow enormously, and today the charity has established almost 2,000 of these independent groups.
But all of this hard work had its rewards, as Andrew met his wife Ann while working with her at BTCV. They still work side by side on local projects, such as the recently re-opened Long Lane Pasture, one of the thousands of independent schemes supported by BTCV, and on the very same Local Groups scheme Mr Brown launched in 1971.
Shortly before becoming an Avenue House trustee, Mr Brown successfully gained listed status for the estate’s buildings, securing recognition for one of Finchley’s architectural gems. As Avenue House company secretary, Mr Brown has to date raised almost £500,000 in restricted grants to help maintain the house and grounds; he stresses that these grants cannot be added to any core funds.
Despite Mr Brown’s sterling work raising funds for the trust, the recession has caused the trust’s main source of income, its venue hire business, to suffer. When asked how Avenue House’s current financial troubles can be resolved, Mr Brown said: “The best thing to do is to get people using the House and booking meeting rooms.” He points out that businesses and charities are tentatively beginning to return their custom, and that individual parties should follow.
When asked if he has ever regretted volunteering his services, Mr Brown said: “No. I’ve had volunteering experiences where you wouldn’t go back, but you do remember them, and you do learn something along the way!”