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Cash-hit BEST future in doubt

BEST president Stuart Hayward (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The future of environmental watchdog BEST is under threat owing to a lack of funds.

The Bermuda Environmental Sustainable Taskforce, one of the island’s most influential campaigners on green issues over the past decade, is currently unable to fully perform its duties, according to chairwoman Gail Miller.

Ms Miller outlined BEST’s stark financial situation in a letter to supporters, and pleaded for donations so it can continue operating while it considers its options.

She stressed BEST, which formed in 2006, has never had such an important role, as applications for large-scale development and growth have increased significantly in the past two years.

BEST is the latest in a string of charities to suffer from a shortfall of donations in the economic downturn, and has struggled to meet the costs of consultants and its office space, according to president Stuart Hayward.

Mr Hayward, who has been a prominent member since its foundation, told The Royal Gazette BEST is turning to its “close friends” in its time of need, while also cutting back its own overheads.

Ms Miller wrote: “BEST finds itself in need of urgent financial support and we are asking for your help.

“Historical funding from donors has declined such that we are no longer able to fully perform our mission.

“Your donation will allow us to continue operating while we explore ways to reduce costs and increase capacity through collaboration with other environmental groups.

“We cannot do this without your support. We know that things will get better and we need your help to hold on until they do.

“Please help keep Bermuda’s environment safe for generations to come.”

BEST was formed in 2006 under the name “Save the Gardens”, successfully blocking plans to build a new hospital on the Botanical Gardens, and two years later was instrumental in fighting off proposals for a hotel on the pristine Southlands property. Organisers said they realised there was nobody looking out for the broader community’s interest when big development projects were planned.

Since then, it has spread the green message through schools, led community discussions and produced research papers on a wide variety of environmental issues, as well as continuing to fight off individual projects such as the planned beach bar at Warwick Long Bay.

BEST has three part-time consultants and, as part of its mission, scrutinises the weekly gazetting of planning applications for anything that could impact the environment.

Mr Hayward said BEST has traditionally kept its outgoing lower than its income, but had been impacted by receiving donations later than in the past.

He added: “The economic downturn has meant that some of our traditional donors have reduced their support; that’s not something unique to us, it’s a climate that we are part of.

“We believe we should ask for help from our close friends first. We have sent this out to our friends, hoping that they can help tide us over for a month.

“We are not just asking others for help. To help ourselves we are paring away significant amounts on overheads and monthly expenses to bring our income and outgo more into alignment.”

Mr Hayward, who many have regarded as the face of BEST from the beginning, said the uncertainty surrounding the organisation had been a personal blow.

The 74-year-old said such stress was a particular concern because he suffers from Parkinson’s Disease.

“I have always had a philosophy that organisations should try to function without funding, because then you don’t have to depend on it.

“But, BEST has grown a life of its own. We have expanded the service we provide and the activism we perform, and we have had to deal with the necessity of financing for office space and for consultants.

“It’s what I do and the work still needs to be done, so one of the strategies may involve downsizing.

“When I first started this, I ran what we are doing out of my home. That’s not an option anymore, but it’s really a part of my life; I could operate on a shoestring again.

“But, it’s a feeling of stress, of having to worry about the people who are part of the organisation, and the people who we have provided an advisory service to. I certainly feel the stress.

“The people we have worked with: they realise our value and we hope that enough of them will remember the value that BEST provides in our community, and that helps to tide us over.”

To make a donation, visit www.best.org.bm/donate