All posts by mirandadebenham

WE GOT THE FUNDING

We are delighted to announce that we’ve secured our funding from Keyfund!!! Which means that this theatre is officially a go! Our financials are all in order, our business plan is ready to rock, and we couldn’t be happier! Its the most amazing Christmas present!

More details and our next steps will come later once we’ve finished celebrating, but for now, thank you to everyone who has supported us so far, and here’s to 2019!

KeyFund Application Submitted!

Finally, after a massive amount of work, and an equally massive amount of support and help from friends (shout out to Olly for proof-reading everything!) we have submitted our funding application to KeyFund! Its both terrifying and brilliant to have successfully written a business plan, a five year financial forecast, and many other bits and pieces of information for our theatre. The next steps will be meeting with them to discuss it, and then (hopefully) putting it forward for a decision from their board!

If you’d like to see what we submitted, you can view all our documentation here

New Projects And A Rant

Hello friends, and welcome to another update on our journey to theatreland! The levels of exhaustion, emotional fatigue and hatred of bureaucracy are high, but we are pushing on! So, here’s our latest updates:

KeyFund

We’re a bit behind on our application (shock), mainly because we hadn’t fully grasped how long a business plan is – we were confident we had all the info needed, just in a variety of places – but it’s taken longer than we thought to pull it all together. However, we should get the application submitted tomorrow which will hopefully keep us on track for an October decision date! It’s honestly been a soul-draining experience to quantify a theatre and reduce it to merely a business, rather than the living, breathing thing that it is, but there we go.

New Projects – Family Inclusion

A couple of weeks ago we finally got round to planning out our community offering for families and children. We’ve decided to run an after-school drama club, which will focus on older children (14+), helping them have fun with drama, and also showing them the various non-acting sides of theatre – lighting and sound, set design, stage management etc. We’re planning to offer these classes at a massive discount – £30 per term – with support from Awards For All. We’re getting help from Danny Antrobus, who is a lovely fundraising expert. He’s helping to write the funding application to Awards For All. The funding will pay for drama teachers, and subsidise the classes to let us run them as cheaply as possible! We’re now just waiting for our CIC registration to come through (more on that below) and we can send the application in!

New Projects – Developing Skills

As well as the children’s drama classes, we’re also asking Awards For All to fund three other programmes. They are:

  1. Paid internships – we will have 3 paid internships available every year, 1 day a week each for 3 months. These will track with our in-house productions and enable the intern to see a show through from casting to the final curtain call
  2. Theatre skills training – we will run monthly workshops on the administrative and production side of theatre – how to apply for funding, how to use Facebook marketing, basic light and sound etc.
  3. Lifeskills training – inspired by SlungLow (OMG WE LOVE THEM) we will also hold monthly lifeskills training classes, open to anyone. They’ll cover a range of topics such as basic finance management, cookery skills or healthy relationships

We’re really hoping that Awards For All will give us the funding we need to make these things happen. And if not, we’ll look elsewhere, because Sheffield needs more opportunities and training in the arts!

And Finally…. A Rant About Bureaucracy!

It feels like every blog we’ve written recently has had a promise that we’ll be a fully incorporated Community Interest Company soon. And friends, we have really been trying! Here’s a tweet from our Executive Director on what’s been going on:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

We have, of course, resent the paperwork again now, so keep everything crossed for us to get it through this time!

Thanks for reading! We’ll have another blog soon about our exciting and inspiring time at the Edinburgh Fringe!
 

 

The KeyFund Process Begins!

You may remember us mentioning KeyFund before – they’re a social investment provider in Yorkshire, and we’re hoping they’ll help us get the £15k we need to get this show on the road. Making first contact with them has been scary – finance is intimidating at the best of times, so we’ve been putting it off for a while. HOWEVER, this week we made the leap and got in touch! And SURPRISE, they’re super lovely!

I talked to Adrian Bean at KeyFund – he’s their investment manager – and he was very friendly and helpful. He confirmed that we’re exactly the type of organisation KeyFund helps – a social impact company, a Community Interest Company, and a start up with no hope of getting the funding we need from a high street bank! KeyFund can offer us ‘Blended Investment’ – a mix of 80% loan, 20% grant – which is just what we’re after, and they will help us all the way through the process. It’s like a cuddly Sheffield finance hug!

The next steps then – KeyFund have an online application process, which we’ll need to go through step by step, with their help and guidance. Then, we’ll have a meeting with them to hash out the details and get it all shiny and perfect. And then they take it to their decision making panel, and we find out if we’ve been successful. We want to go to their October panel, so we need to have completed the application and meeting by the end of September. So it’s all go here! But in a very, very positive way.

Arts Funding Is Broken For Us (and other news)

So this is going to be a bit of a ranty blogpost – brace yourselves. Since I last updated the blog, I’ve had three important meetings. With a Relationship Manager from the Arts Council, with the Arts and Culture Officer at Sheffield City Council, and with Dave Thornett from an organisation called KeyFund. So, a brief synopsis of the interviews before I get ranty (to skip to the ranting click here):

Rebecca Maddox, Sheffield Council

This was a pretty positive getting-to-know-you meeting, just introducing myself and Tim, and explaining a bit about what we want to do, and when we want to do it (ie. Opening in Feb/Mar 2019). Rebecca was super helpful – she said she would send any surveys or questionnaires for artists round her various mailing lists, and try to help out any other way she can. She also gave us some other people to get in touch with doing similar things in Sheffield. Most usefully, she gave us a contact in the Planning Department, who can hopefully give us some advice on what to look for/avoid when trying to find our building. Thanks, Rebecca!

Dave Thornett, KeyFund

We wanted to talk to KeyFund to get advice on company formation, and social investment for the longer term. We got in touch with Dave through the UoS Enterprise Team (thanks, Darren!). This was a super helpful phone call – Dave talked us through different types of structure for social investment – a standard Limited Company isn’t usually the best option – and what types of finance we might get under each structure. It’s pretty clear that a Community Interest Company (CIC) is the way forward, so we’ll be registering one very soon! Dave also told us a bit about what types of documents and information KeyFund like to see when helping with investment (3-5 years cashflow erk!) which will help us get better prepared in the next couple of months!

Relationship Manager, ACE

Now, this meeting. I’m not naming the Relationship Manager here because I’m not angry with her personally. I’m angry with ACE and the whole insane arts funding structure. Basically, we went into this meeting with 2 aims – to figure out how/if we can get funding for the Audience Development we want to do, and to ask about sources of capital funding for the bigger theatre project. Capital costs, by the way, are for stuff, rather than short-term projects – it might be for buying equipment or a building or paying for permits etc. Anything that you pay for once and then its yours. Obviously, we will have quite a few of that type of cost – refitting a building into a theatre isn’t super cheap.

So, first off, the Audience Development application. We were planning to make a Under £15k Projects Grants (previously G4A) application. But the RM said that as our project was purely research, and would have no artistic outcome, it could never achieve the Artistic Excellence quality that ACE looks for in applications. So it could never be funded. That does directly contradict the Projects Grants guidance, which says that you can apply for non-artistic activities, but the RM was very clear that we would be unsuccessful.

Secondly, capital funding. To do a project of long-term ambition, you’re going to need this, inevitably. So, there should be a way to get small amounts of capital funding, right? WRONG. Firstly, as we expected, Projects Grants will not fund capital costs. Not unless they’re bound up in a project-based application anyway (we may end up doing something like this out of desperation). But secondly. Secondly, there is another fund called the Small Capital Grants Fund, which I was hoping would be our salvation. The ACE website says you have to have permission to apply, so I wanted to know how we get that. Turns out, we can’t. The Small Capital Grants Fund is, secretly, exclusively for NPOs. Yes, that’s right, the organisations that are already receiving secured annual funding for running costs and umm, what is it, oh yeah CAPITAL COSTS. And yet the only fund theoretically open to small fry like us, is actually closed off for them. Which makes no real sense – how are new organisation supposed to get off the ground? – but then what does with the Arts Council?

So there we go. A very frustrating and negative meeting. I should stress, the RM was not negative or closed off herself – she did want to help. But she also wanted to save us from writing doomed funding applications, which is how we now know that ACE can’t/won’t help us with the theatre.

We’re going to keep going, but things just got harder and scarier – we will probably now be relying on social investment and/or start-up loans to cover our initial costs. But, we have found support and positivity with the council, and with KeyFund. Onwards!

Becoming A Proper Thing

So, updates from us here at Hope in Hell! We’ve been pretty busy in the past few weeks, sending out emails, arranging and having meetings, and doing cashflow documents! Lets start at the top…

Research and Development Plans

We’re planning to do our R&D, which is a combination of audience development and market research, in June-August 2018. We’ve managed to arrange meetings with four of our five target groups: students, Muslims, working class men and older people – and we need to go back to the drawing board to meet up with some new parents! We’re also planning to do surveys via social media more generally, to get a broader sample.

We are still hoping to get funding to do this from ACE, but we’re also confident that we can do it in our own time if needed – we might need to focus more on getting funding for the eventual theatre, rather than the R&D.

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

We’ve had two meetings since the last blog post! One went really well, the other went fairly well but not as well as we’d hoped.

Firstly, with University of Sheffield Enterprise, who help students and alumni set up their own businesses. These guys were super helpful, offering free desk space and meeting rooms, PLUS free business coaching and help developing market research surveys, which is super relevant to the R&D. So that was a big win!

Secondly, I had a quick meeting with Dan Bates, the Chief Executive of Sheffield Theatres. I was very nervous about this meeting – I was expecting either a slapdown, or whole-hearted support. Inevitably, what I got was somewhere in between – positive noises, but nothing concrete in support. However, he did alert me to a council-funded report into studio theatres in Sheffield, which is apparently coming soon and will be VERY interesting reading! And he’s a good contact to have made, so it was a net positive.

Next week, we’re back to more meetings! Three very exciting ones in fact – with a Relationship Manager from ACE, with Rebecca Maddox from the Sheffield Culture Consortium (and the local council), and finally, with KeyFund, a potential investment partner!

Money and Investment

We’ve been thinking a lot about how money will work for Hope in Hell, and what investment or funding we might need to get off the ground. We’re also going to be becoming a legal entity soon (a Proper Company) so we need to think about what that looks like too.

Our options for legal structures are basically as follows:

  • a Community Interest Company (CIC) – this is like a regular company, but it has rules about what the money it makes can be used for – it has to benefit the community. This may be beneficial when seeking grants.
  • a company Limited By Guarantee – this is a regular company, in a structure without shares/shareholders – which makes it less profit-focussed
  • a Charity – obvious, this is preferred by most grant funding bodies, but can’t have any social investment

We’re seeking advice from KeyFund (more below) on what form is best for us!

We’ve been looking seriously at how much profit we might make initially, and how long it’ll take us to become profitable. You can take a look at our work-in-progress cashflow spreadsheet here. It’s not finished, but it shows how stretched we might be – and that we’re going to need £10-15k raised before we can start!

So, where to get the money from? The most obvious option is the Arts Council – that type of money is small fry for them, and they should be interested in funding it. But it doesn’t fit neatly into their Projects Grants programme, which is why we’re having a meeting to talk it over. The next option, realistically, is investment. We’re going to be a low-profit organisation no matter what, so we will find it hard to get traditional investment. So we’re looking at social investment! That basically means people who invest money, and are willing to have a smaller return on their investment as long as there is provable social benefit. It’s a great match for us – and that’s where KeyFund comes in. They’re essentially a matching service – they help start-ups like ours to find money! And they’re also going to advise us on which legal structure is best for doing that. We’re meeting them next Wednesday, which is a really great step forward!

Name Change

One last (exciting) thing – we’re going to be changing our name! Hope in Hell Theatre has been a great working title, and it sums up our personal goals quite nicely, but it doesn’t work for a public organisation. So in future, we’ll be known as The Local (or The Local Theatre, we haven’t decided yet)! Expect a rebrand just as soon as we get round to it!

Thats all for now folks, but watch this space for more post-meetings updates!

Next Steps: Planning, Networking and Funding!

TLDR: We’ve established that HiH will be a producing venue offering 2 week, 1 week and short/experimental runs. We’ll have an open door policy, but high standards for programming our longer runs. We’ll be community focussed and led. We’re applying for Arts Council funding to do some audience research, and meeting with Sheffield Theatres to talk about it all!

It’s been ages since I last updated this blog – life and work have been hectic, and it somehow got pushed down the priority list. So this might be quite a long update!

Planning

After the Theatres Trust conference, and having thought about what a theatre should be, and who it should be aimed at, I met up with Tim Norwood, my partner in crime, and future Artistic Director of HiH (we hope). We had a massive brainstorming session where we talked about what the theatre should look like, and what we wanted to do in it. This included:

What Will Be On?

  • Our programming ethos will be: high standards, not necessarily political, and will actively work with other local venues to ensure we don’t clash
  • That we will have an open door policy for anyone to propose a show, and that where possible we will try to make it happen (eg in the free week every month or in a scratch night)
  • That we will be a producing house! And that our productions will try to be reactive to current events, but also explore revivals and Shakespeare. These will have to be grant based, but we will aim for 4-6 per year
  • That an average month would have a 2 week run of a “main show”, a 1 week run of a “fringe show” (or something experimental), and 1 week free for smaller slots/shows/whatever

What Matters To Us?

  • That this is not a project, it’s permanent and we need to not compromise on this
  • The importance of focussing on the local community and their wants/needs
  • Wanting to get new audiences in, including people who currently don’t go to the theatre
  • That diversity and access are very important to us, and we will be actively trying to increase diversity in audiences and artists at all times

How Will It Work?

  • Rehearsal space could be available even when shows are on, provided shows set/costumes weren’t touched
  • We could offer a 70/30 split, but not better, to be financially viable
  • That FEEDBACK is really important, but in different ways to different people
    • As a venue, we want measurable feedback from audiences, and general feedback from artists
    • Artists may have their own feedback ideas, and will want a general overview of audience opinions
  • That we will need to balance market forces vs subsidies (if we can get any!)

We also did a picture! Of what our ideal venue might look like. The quality is terrible, but here’s a quick look – includes feedback boxes, cafe/bar, an office with our monthly budgets on the wall, and a graffiti/mural wall!

theatre

Funding

Having done all that thinking, we realised our next step needed to be a Research period. We want to look at current experiences in Sheffield, for a few key audience groups, which we selected either because they have high participation rates (Students, Older People), or typically lower participation rates (Working Class Men, Muslims, New Mothers). We want to ask them about their experience of theatre in the past, what makes them go now, and/or what barriers exist to stop them going.

We’ve reached out to a lot of people – local libraries to host talks/feedback sessions after the research is completed, local community groups to arrange interviews and surveys, and local arts groups (including with the Council) to talk about the future for Hope in Hell. We’ve also got a meeting booked in with Sheffield Theatres to talk about what support they could offer, and will hopefully get one sorted with Theatre Deli too!

Once we have everything lined up, we’ll be writing an Arts Council Grants For The Arts funding bid, for about £8000, to fund 3 months of training, research and write-up. There’ll be some crowdfunding needed, so watch this space!

Networking

It’s very important to make connections to make this work, both within theatre and in Sheffield in general. It’s been hard to do that whilst living in London, but sending out the emails to community groups and organisations in the past fortnight has been good. It’s also been terrifying to start to commit to this without any confirmation of funding, but it needs to happen!

This weekend is Devoted and Disgruntled, the conference which inspired me last year to actually make this dream a reality. So who knows what new ideas or challenges I’ll have to report next week!