Helen Jenkins, Facilitator – Go and See trip to Sheffield 7 January 2014

The first week back to work after the Christmas holidays can be a real drag.  All that time overindulging on food, family and friends is swapped for the hard reality of work plans and the daily commute.  Usually I find it hard to get myself motivated at this time of year.  But this year was different – my first day back at work was spent sharing knowledge and information with some of the most generous people and organisations possible; and it has made me vow to make sure that I share as much as I can this year with others too.

A big part of my role as facilitator for Making it Work was organising a ‘Go and See’ trip.  The purpose of ‘Go and See’ was to get together with organisations who could both challenge our thinking about fundraising and income generation for the arts and also to share knowledge and experience.  Finding a model of funding which works is a massive challenge for arts organisations in Stoke-on-Trent, and we knew we were not alone in this. We wanted to visit a city or region where the challenges we face would be understood and crucially where we may be able to find some solutions.

We choose to visit Sheffield after much debate and thought.  We wanted to visit somewhere of a similar size to Stoke-on-Trent, where there was thriving cultural industry and scene which had been born out of industrial decline.  We wanted to learn how the arts had thrived and what lessons we could take back to our own organisations and also to the region. Quite a tall order!

We choose Sheffield and on 7th January a minibus set off from The Barracks en route across the hills to Sheffield, a beautiful but bumpy journey.  We had a packed schedule for the day and planned to meet our counterparts in a variety of organisations ranging from National Portfolio Funded galleries with vast experience of income generation to brand new organisations who had never embarked on any fundraising before.  We met with:

·         Site Gallery

·         Yorkshire Artspace

·         Bloc Projects

·         Access Space

·         Sheffield Printmakers

·         Music In the Round

It is hard to sum up the learning, as it was wide and varied.  For myself, the visit reinforced that every size of organisation is having to look at all of their income streams and then decide where and how to focus its resources to maximise income. What was clear was that many of the traditional sources of income, for example trusts and foundations, are being used more and more by arts organisations and I wonder how long this can be sustained.  It was fascinating to hear that some groups have decided to steer clear of Arts Council funding, citing stiff competition and the fact that the funding is largely restricted to projects as their reason.

Without exception there was huge generosity of spirit, time and knowledge from all of the people we met with in Sheffield.  We found issues similar to our own but also great spirit and will.  Of course we did not find the solution to our funding need, but then again we did not expect to, but we have made contacts that I hope will remain and grow.

Thank you to everyone we met – it was a fascinating and interesting day.  Please do come and make the journey to Stoke to see us soon!

Restoke – Go and See; 
Liam Evans-Ford - Creative Producer, Blood and Chocolate

We have begun our go and see’s starting with a trip to the picturesque city of York where we had heard rumours of a wonderful promenade performance with a cast of 200 community and professional performers called ‘Blood and Chocolate’ (http://www.pilot-theatre.com/?idno=1183) The performance was repeated over three weeks and sold out before the opening night (hence we never got to see it!). So we were interested in how the city embraced this participatory project and if there was any learning we could bring back to Stoke-on-Trent. 

We met with Liam Evans-Ford Creative Producer for Blood and Chocolate and based at Pilot Theatre.
Pilot Theatre initiated the project, having been established for over 30 years they primarily produce touring work with an emphasis of reaching young people. Pilot wanted to undertake a new project which connected with York, where the company is based, and tell a meaningful story for the city. As an NPO (National Portfolio Organisation) they receive regular arts council funding, and teamed up with 2 other NPOs to deliver this project (Slung Low and Theatre Royal). An interesting find about Pilot Theatre was their pioneering approach to technology, they have developed techniques in successfully streaming live performance and are now employed by both arts organisations and local authorities (to broadcast political events) which means they have been able to diversify their income streams.

Although working in a very different structure to Restoke, we were still interested in what can be achieved in the duration of a participatory projects. Successes in this particular project seemed to lie in Liam’s understanding of the local culture and community through having delivered large-scale community arts performance (he was also creative producer for York Mystery Plays in 2012). He puts success in private giving down to finding the ‘fit’ of a project with a business. Blood and Chocolate told a story of the Lord major sending Rowntree chocolate tins to York’s soldiers fighting in the war. This story, along with strong community engagement, meant they secured a donation from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) as well as additional income and support from a local chocolate themed attraction as well as a new independent chocolate house. 

There were many different levels of involvement, from enticing corporate packages to simple stickers in windows and a donation of £50 from businesses on the performance route. Incentives included logos on promotional material (including many bus sides) and acknowledgement in the souvenir brochure. It was noted that business and culture seem to be pretty intertwined here, with people from both sectors meeting and networking regularly allowing informal introductions of project ideas and partnership building. The engagement was a huge part of this and Liam acknowledges the huge culture of participation in arts projects in York. He puts this down to the tradition of the Mystery Plays, which would originally be acted out by the community and hosted by local businesses in a promenade procession through the city. This tradition seems to have stuck along with its appeal to local businesses. 

One of the most interesting things we learnt from Liam, however, was their attention to the skills of volunteers and participants who were catalysed to take on some of the challenges of marketing, building audiences and fundraising. This included teams of volunteer photographers documenting the process, people handing out flyers and manning sandwich boards during on site rehearsals and even the participants fundraising themselves for the project (eg. cake sales, ‘click through’ blogs and badge making!)

So this led us to think about the culture of participation in Stoke-on-Trent. We have had great success recently in gathering a cast of over 40 performers, not to mention crew and volunteers for our last project and for the arrival of the Olympic Torch in Stoke-on-Trent in 2012 our consortium cohorts B Arts paraded through the streets with over 1000 community performers! Not to mention the countless choirs, drama groups, dance schools and arts groups in the region…. so participation is well and truly alive here too!
Community is perhaps the real key for Restoke to connect to routes of private giving, both from individuals and local business. The participants in our work reach further out into the community than we ever could alone, offering important and real networks. With a bit of extra planning and foresight this resource (for want of a better word!) could be utilised in building our audiences, funding and impact. This potential in making the most out of the communities that come together through our work is something that really excites us, not only is it beneficial to the income of the project but also empowers the people involved and deepens the level of investment they have in the project.

We are already in the process of applying this knowledge to our work as we sit here writing a new funding bid, we’re taking a (small) leap in building private giving into our project which will see us experiment with some of the learning that ‘Making it Work’ has allowed us to explore. Fingers crossed!!