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!

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