Dons Trust Chair, Mark Davis, gives an update following recent meetings with Dons Trust members and a meeting of the Dons Trust board on Wednesday.
There is a lot of speculation at the moment about the future of the club. These are complicated times and I understand why theories and rumours run thick and fast in such circumstances.
I shall attempt to set the record straight and to provide an update on some positive developments since the recent SGM and open meeting. Those developments include entering into a further interim construction contract with Buckingham, pressing ahead with a fans’ bond and launching a survey on what members think about external investment.
First of all, as a reminder, we are £11 million short of the funding we need to complete our stadium, and so we cannot yet sign the main construction contract with Buckingham. That’s an unwelcome situation, and it is absolutely vital that we put that right by raising the money we need to build our new home in Plough Lane. We will continue to pursue all opportunities for raising the money.
Over recent months, we have been energetically pursuing crowd funding, development loans, commercial mortgages, sale-and-lease-back and, yes, more recently, external equity investment.
The reactions to external investment have, to an extent, drowned out our message on other forms of finance. So, let me repeat: we have been energetically pursuing, and we will continue to pursue, all of those other forms of finance. We have been talking to a lot of lenders. Those efforts could have a positive outcome. But we don’t have an offer we can rely on yet.
We also need to keep in mind that there is a limit to how much we ought to borrow. The shorter the repayment period, and the higher the interest rate, the less we can afford to borrow. So the terms on which we can borrow are vital. We are leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to get a good loan, and we are grateful to those fans who have identified some new contacts for us to talk to.
I understand how controversial proposals for external investment have been with many members, and that’s no surprise. However, a half-built stadium is also controversial, and so too is borrowing money that we can’t afford to repay. So we have been casting the net wide in our efforts to fill the funding gap, to give ourselves as many options as possible.
I am grateful to all of you who came along to the SGM and open meeting. Those of you who contributed to the discussion did so in a constructive manner and explained your concerns very clearly. And some of you offered some fresh ideas, for which we are very grateful.
At Wednesday’s Dons Trust board meeting, we were able to take stock of what we had heard at the meetings, and of other developments in the meantime, and to map out the actions we will take forward over coming weeks.
The first decision we were able to make is that, after further negotiation with our stadium contractor, Buckingham, we are moving ahead with a further interim contract that will keep construction work proceeding until the end of February. This is great news, because it gives us a bit more time to raise money from other sources. I am grateful to Buckingham for the flexibility they have shown.
Second, we heard very clearly that you want another chance to see if we can raise more money from fans, in the form of a bond. Since the SGM, we have been working closely with those fans who put this idea forward at the meeting. They have launched a survey to see how much appetite there is, and the results are very encouraging indeed, with over £3 million of potential support indicated so far. The terms fans have offered have been generous, so this money could make a real impact alongside other sources of finance. We will work hard on this and, once we’ve got the legalities sorted, we will press ahead with launching a fans’ bond in the new year.
We’re very positive about this opportunity, and grateful to fans who are willing to pledge money to this initiative. We would love the fans’ bond to make a sizeable dent in the £11 million we are seeking to raise. It can also help give us a further breathing space to raise the rest of the money we need and, if the terms are as generous as you have been indicating, make the overall financing package more affordable.
On the subject of external investment, we know that you want to know the identity of the investors we have been speaking to, and you would not be willing to vote for external investment until you know more about them. However, for the time being, the investors wish to remain anonymous until we – as a membership – have decided whether we are ready in principle to accept what they are offering.
So, the third action arising from our board meeting on Wednesday will be to test opinions further by conducting a quick online survey. That won’t be a formal vote but it will tease out how much support there would be for a formal proposal. I do not currently expect that we will be putting a formal resolution to members on this subject in the very near future, so please do not worry that this is something we will seek to railroad through over the festive period.
We also agreed at Wednesday’s board meeting that the Trust’s Annual General Meeting will be held on 29 January 2020. The date of the AFCW PLC AGM has not yet been set as the annual report is not yet ready. We expect to distribute a draft of AFCW’s annual report to members ahead of the Trust’s AGM. As was the case last year, the numbers are ready but some greater clarity on where we have reached with the stadium will give us a stronger narrative and so support our efforts to raise money. To give us a bit more time to file the accounts at Companies House, we have changed AFCW PLC’s year-end date.
I suspect I haven’t laid to rest every single misconception that is swirling around among the fanbase. I’m afraid that the volume of traffic that is being generated on social media is far beyond our capacity as a board to respond to. We are busy pressing ahead with the work we need to do in order to get the stadium built and financed, and we have day-jobs too. Please bear with us. We will keep you informed of any significant developments.
Finally, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Despite the sombre mood of recent weeks, I firmly believe 2020 will yield us a new stadium we can be proud to call home.