The Right People

In the third instalment of his series of reports from the 2013 Theatres Trust Conference, thriving theatres, Conference Reporter Fin Kennedy hears from Lyric Hammersmith’s Executive Director Jessica Hepburn, about the Lyric’s ambitious redevelopment – and how fundraising is all about having the right people doing the asking.

As Executive Director and Joint Chief Exec of London’s Lyric Hammersmith, Jessica is currently overseeing a £16.5 million redevelopment project. Historically, the Lyric has had two linked aspects: producing theatre, and the creative development of young people. Their redevelopment will see a two-storey extension of new facilities for young people and theatre artists to work together, and a full refurbishment of their existing theatre and audience spaces, with an emphasis on environmental sustainability.

However, Jessica had three words of advice for those considering undertaking such any capital project: Don’t do it. She was only half-joking – any such project will be long, hard and very messy, on top of which there is no guarantee that it will make your theatre thrive. The Lyric’s redevelopment had also been an exercise in negotiating capital works with their landlord. Jessica freely admitted that the project would not come in on time or on budget – and didn’t believe that there is one which has.

As if that level of uncertainty wasn’t bad enough, the world is also guaranteed to change during the period of redevelopment, Jessica said. The Lyric’s plans began under the last government, when they had specific funding for delivering education programmes – funding programmes that no longer exist.

What has focused the Lyric is a belief in two things: that their theatre should be a home for great art, and that it should emphasise young people’s creative development. The Lyric will consider anything to develop that – especially partnerships with other local organisations. Jessica has a vision of their new building ‘teeming’ with artists and young people – but not all projects have to be Lyric-delivered. A range of partners can bring in their own resources (a list of such partners will be announced in the autumn).

What Jessica looked for in potential partners was that they weren’t too much like the Lyric itself. She gave the example of Hammersmith Action for Disability, an organisation which would benefit from the Lyric’s creative expertise, while bringing in heard to reach groups which the Lyric would struggle to attract on their own.

The Lyric is lucky to have a supportive local council, the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. As a Conservative council, despite cuts to their budget, they have contributed £5 million to the Lyric’s redevelopment. The Mayor of London has also contributed, as has the Reuben Foundation, a trust which doesn’t normally support the arts. Jessica emphasised that they had not used a ‘development organisation’ (ie. professional fundraisers), which she characterised as ‘women in nice dresses who earn more than anyone else in the building’. She was clear that she felt this would not be appropriate for the Lyric. Instead, the theatre had instigated a culture of every senior manager at the Lyric being responsible for income-generation. Fundraising and business development was at the core of what they all do – and she used the word ‘business’ advisedly. It shouldn’t just feel like people asking for money.

Her top tip when fundraising was to ensure you have the right people asking the right people at the right time.


The week after the conference, the Lyric also announced a new season of work which will take place during their building work entitled ‘Secret Theatre’. The project aims to be a creative catalyst for changing some of the structures in which theatre in the UK is made currently. Click here for the full transcript of Artistic Director, Sean Holmes’ speech at the season launch.


A Theatre and its City

In the second of his missives from the 2013 Theatres Trust conference, Thriving Theatres, Conference Reporter Fin Kennedy hears from Executive Director at Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, Deborah Aydon.

Deborah is currently overseeing the redevelopment of the Everyman Theatre and told the Theatres Trust 2013 conference on 11 June about some of the strategies the theatre had deployed to gain widespread local support.

Deborah began with a whistlestop tour through the history of the Everyman and Playhouse theatres – an alliance between an old Victorian music hall which became one of the UK’s first repertory theatres, and a chapel, converted to a theatre in 1964, one mile away from each other. Their Young Everyman Playhouse (YEP) is a crucial component in their success – actor David Morrissey is an alumnus and returned to play Macbeth in the Everyman’s closing show. The company also has reach far beyond Liverpool, and their shows regularly tour, most recently Frank McGuinness’s Matchbox which came down to London’s Tricycle Theatre. The company has also tapped into Liverpool’s rich history of local writing talent, such as Lizzie Nunnery’s The Swallowing Dark, which received five Off West End Award nominations or poet Roger McGough’s three adaptations of Moliere, all of which toured nationally. As Deborah herself put it: “Everything we do is infused with our city, inspired by it and by its people. Nothing that we do is parochial.

The company is lucky to have a city council which is very supportive. The Mayor recently described culture as ‘the rocket fuel of our local economy’.

Outreach is a big part of how the Everyman and Playhouse have achieved widespread support. Deborah cited a project in Kirkdale with local gangs, in which the theatre’s technical team trained young men in lighting design, and coached them in rigging an installation at the local recreation centre for use at their football matches. Liverpool Football Club watched their first match and were so impressed they offered free football coaching, which is still ongoing two years later. The theatres piloted a technical training programme with the young men and a video artist worked with the same group to turn the entire frontage of a local pub into a video animation. All 12 of the former gang members involved in the lighting project are now in either related employment or training and the technical training programme is now an annual strand of YEP.

The Everyman embarked on an ambitious redevelopment programme to overhaul the Everyman Theatre, a building that was dated and not really physically accessible. The motto for the project is ‘An Everyman for Everyone’.

The journey to the new Everyman began with a finale for the old building, which took the form of a collection and sharing of memories (such as couples who had met there). The public were invited to write these onto luggage tags, which were displayed around the building. Thousands of people came to say goodbye to the old Everyman – simultaneously discovering why the redevelopment was needed. Many of these brought children, to introduce them to their theatre and express their hopes for the future. This drawing out of emotional connections created a feeling of ownership and belonging. Though the old building has now been demolished, 25,000 bricks were saved and used in the walls of the new theatre.

The new design is democratic and inclusive, with every seat the same (no more seats vs. benches), with each close to the stage, and a rehearsal room and studio dedicated to youth and community work which has deliberately been placed right at the centre of the building. Reimagining the building as a creative and social hub aims to bring artists and audiences together – physically as much as metaphorically – by connecting the theatre’s social spaces. This includes opening up the old Everyman bistro, which has long been a bohemian hang-out for counter-cultural Liverpool. During the redevelopment, the theatre embraced a social media strategy by installing a ‘cranecam’ high above the building site, broadcasting online how the building was coming along, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The front of the theatre required installing some external screens to manage sunlight into the building – the architect, Steve Tompkins, took the opportunity to make a feature of this, and turned it into an art project which expresses the Everyman’s ethos. The ‘portrait wall’ is made of aluminium sheets have been etched with engravings of local Liverpool residents – not famous ones, but ordinary citizens, alive today – 105 of them in total. They range in age from an 86-year old to a new born baby. The Everyman invited them all to a party to get to know them and emphasise the fact that they are all now part of the Everyman’s story, and the Everyman part of theirs.

The fundraising campaign for the new theatre will also establish a talent fund to enrich the programme and create opportunities for their YEP members to go on to professional careers. The strong relationship with donors has meant they can move away from a focus on donations to fund bricks and mortar towards future activity, which also strengthens the emotional bond. Deborah looked up the etymology of the word ‘philanthropy’ and was delighted to discover that it meant ‘love of humanity’. That seemed to sum up everything the Everyman does.

But the theatre’s fundraising doesn’t just come from wealthy patrons. Local citizens of ordinary means had also taken it on themselves to fundraise for the theatre through activities such as tea parties and sponsored mountain climbs. Deborah wasn’t talking about large sums of money, but the larger amounts of goodwill and further sense of belonging which came with it were arguably more important. There are now over 1,000 of these citizen donors.

To capture what motivated the Everyman’s audience to do this, the theatre collected their reasons on another series of luggage tags. One of Deborah’s favourites read: ‘Home is where the heart is, and our heart is in the Everyman’. It was written by a working-class Liverpudlian couple who had never thought theatre was for them, but who tried it out for the first time during Liverpool’s City of Culture in 2008, and fell in love. They are now not only regular theatregoers, but regular donors to the Everyman too.

Young Everyman Playhouse is excited about opening the doors to their new space. They have already decided on its motto: ‘This will be a place where impossibility is not an answer’.

A clarion call from Ruth Mackenzie

Ruth Mackenzie delivered the opening address at the Theatres Trust 2013 Conference, held on Tues 11 June. Ruth is a senior arts executive, formerly head of Nottingham Playhouse, and subsequently adviser to the DCMS for ten years under a previous government. In 2012, she delivered the Cultural Olympiad, for which she was awarded recently a CBE.

Conference 2013 Reporter Fin Kennedy was there to hear her speak.


Ruth started by telling us this was a timely conference – a ‘wake-up call’. We can’t avoid the politics taking place around us; the Comprehensive Spending Review is being decided next week, and the results announced on 26 June. We have days to influence it. Arts Council briefings about what to expect have been depressing. ACE has already taken a worst cut than most – 30%. They deserve our thanks for handling that severe cut in a measured way. But a further 10%, as is expected, would imperil two-thirds of ACE National Portfolio Organisations. 15%, which is also entirely possible, would threaten four-fifths. Experience tells us that, once they are closed, arts organisations are very hard to bring back. The Department for Communities and Local Government has already accepted a 10% cut from the Treasury. As arts funding is not mandatory for local authorities, we are bound to see further cuts at local level on top of whatever is decided in relation to the Arts Council. Given the important role that arts subsidy plays to delivering growth what can we do to stop this?


Ruth was adviser to no less than five Secretaries of State for Culture under Labour, during what, with hindsight, could be seen as a ‘golden age’ for arts funding. But that suggests it is over. It is important not to feel hopeless. Ruth has worked the corridors of power during previous spending reviews. It is the officials’ job to say no. But politicians have a wider vocabulary; they can also say yes. But what causes them to do so?


With most politicians it isn’t a case just of making the economic case for the arts, but also the political one. Yes, arts and culture are responsible for almost 10% of GDP. Yes, the public funding which generates that is also insignificant when it comes to reducing the deficit. And arts and culture are one of a very few growing industries during the recession. We can and should make these arguments.


But research also shows that, with theatre in particular, our core audience is women aged 35-60. That’s a demographic which is also important to the current coalition government. Our biggest fans are also those who the Treasurer, George Osborne wants to reach – especially in marginal seats. The question for us is: Why have we as a sector historically not managed to motivate audiences to advocate on our behalf? It is always better when our audiences do this rather than us. We should mobilise this audience to talk to their local MPs as a matter of urgency.


There are ways of doing this. Some basic rules: MPs smell a rat if every letter they receive is a template or postcard. Don’t write your audience’s script for them; let them write their own. Call on those who already love you – volunteers, adult learners – our ‘superfans’. But there isn’t much time; we must do it this week.


Ruth has seen close-up the process by which political decisions get made. It is via a series of ‘whims, coincidences and cock-ups’. We must try to create some coincidences. For example, local MPs all hold constituency surgeries every Friday. This Friday 14 June is our last chance to book one. Send a superfan. Use the law of ‘six degrees of separation’. Ask your board, donors, business sponsors, councillors, chief executive, philanthropists to send an email. It might get read by the right people.


There are some emerging lessons for us from this tumultuous period. The first is why it is that we still have so much work to do with our political masters. What does that say about us as cultural partners? It is complacent for us to say that arts and culture will never be as cherished as schools or hospitals. We should be coming out with better arguments, based on relationships we have forged and a campaigns base we have motivated. In fact, it’s a bit late – they should be motivated already. But we have no ‘standing army’ of women, or anyone else for that matter. We should start with an audit of our own operation. All the theatres at this Thriving Theatres conference have a learning programme, relationships with schools, a senior citizens group. But this fabric of connections doesn’t add up to a tapestry. What more can we do? We are running out of time. We need to show that our rhetoric about community arts is true.


During Ruth’s time running Nottingham Playhouse, the theatre’s claims about being part of the fabric of its community got tested. The proof came via an anecdote from a local special needs school. The school told its children that if they ever got lost in the city centre, to go into the theatre. Someone there would help. This wasn’t a theatre-led initiative. It was just the culture of the theatre, school and city. For Ruth, it was one of their greatest achievements. This is the standard of community asset that we should be boasting about.


We only have today to act.


A Silver Lining?

Fin Kennedy Conference 13 Reporter introduces The Theatres Trust Conference 2013

I’m delighted to have been appointed as this year’s Conference Reporter for The Theatres Trust. It comes hot on the heels of several months of thinking, writing and campaigning about the role and value of the arts during a time of recession, which I have been doing over on my own blog,

In Battalions, my report about how Government cuts to the Arts Council are affecting new play development in the UK, has been widely circulated since its publication in February.

Conceived in response to comments made to me by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey that cuts to the arts were having “no effect”, the report drew on detailed surveys completed by 26 English theatres and personal testimony from 40 different theatre-makers. It found that two-thirds of venues had had to cancel one or more production since the last round of cuts took effect in April 2012, with half producing fewer new plays and commissioning fewer writers, and the same proportion obliged to insist playwrights focus on smaller cast sizes. Guardian theatre critic Lyn Gardner called it ‘a catalogue of loss’.

But there was a silver lining, and that was the extraordinary groundswell of support from across the creative industries – and beyond – which the report seemed to generate. Theatre really is valued by film, TV, radio, education, health, local councils and many other sectors for the creative opportunities it offers, and the value it brings to communities up and down the country.

The campaign has now switched its focus to a consultation process within the sector about ways in which theatres can protect risk-taking at a time of almost unprecedented withdrawal of resources.

The fact is that many theatres, particularly those outside London, are caught in a perfect storm of Arts Council cuts, local government cuts, the reduced capacity of their audiences to spend, and ferocious competition for what philanthropy remains. We urgently need to find ways to deploy our ingenuity and creativity to find low-cost, high impact ways to protect what we do best.

The Theatres Trust Conference 2013 is an important and timely part of that conversation. Its particular focus this year on taking advantage of the current government’s localism agenda, and establishing theatres as ‘community assets’ is a smart and resourceful step. I look forward to hearing from the impressive line-up of speakers about their own experiences in this area.

In that spirit, I would like to kick things off by sharing with you one recent conversation I had which I found particularly inspiring.

Claire Mansfield is a researcher for think-tank the New Local Government Network (NLGN). She has a background in community opera in Ireland, and holds not one but two PhDs, one in Social Geography and another in Social Sustainability. I first came across her when she wrote a thoughtful and measured piece, Why Art Aid Pays Off, for The MJ, the online journal for local authorities.

In it, while acknowledging that arts funding is of course not a statutory obligation for councils, nor a matter of life and death like some services, Claire goes on to argue that this is a narrow way of conceiving of councils’ role.  First acknowledging the large amount of funding which many councils have put into supporting arts and culture in their areas before the recession hit (and which many that still do), she goes on to present the concept of councils as ‘place makers’. Councils don’t just empty the bins; they also play a role in somehow nurturing our sense of community. Yes, they make a place liveable in, but they also make it worth living in.

As Claire herself writes:

“ ‘Creating place’ [can] celebrate local culture and traditions, affirm the pride of original groups, encourage involvement in environmental improvements and transform negative perceptions of local authorities and agencies … building up the friendships and resilience that will see [communities] through the economic downturn.”

This seems to chime with the idea of an arts organisation, or building, being a ‘community asset’. I found it interesting and encouraging that this idea has sprung up independently in more than one place simultaneously.

The concept suggests a creative exchange between councils, artists and taxpayers, and even hints at an element of councils having to manage local ‘psychogeography’ as part of their role. But aren’t councils, councillors and artists actually all about people and communities? It shouldn’t come as such a surprise that we have more in common than we might think.

I wrote and thanked Claire for her article, and we met up for a brief chat over coffee. She told me more about the fundraising the NLGN is doing to try and conduct a wider study into this symbiotic relationship between councils, artists and communities. She was particularly on the look-out for some examples of current good practice to strengthen their application. I put a call out among my networks and was pleased to be sent many varied examples.

I heard about Oldham Council and their unwavering support of Oldham Coliseum. I heard about Graeae’s very positive relationship with Hackney Council – who also founded the Art In Empty Spaces project. I heard about Plymouth Council’s application to become 2017’s City of Culture, and their commitment to fund the Plymouth International Book Festival for two years. Someone put me onto how Colchester Arts Centre and the Mercury Theatre had joined forces with a local residents’ association to clear up the appearance of a local alleyway. I was intrigued to find out that Southwark Councils corporate training team had commissioned London Bubble to run a session with local councillors. I was delighted to hear about the support that Bolton Council’s Arts Development department was giving to local group Neoartists, and that together they will be hosting a workshop this summer in Bolton Market Place, in collaboration with Creative Industries Trafford and the Castlefield Gallery.

Then there was Mountview and Haringey, Islington and the Word 2013 Festival, Stockton Council and the Arc Theatre – the list went on. It was such a joy to read some good news for a change, and even inspired me to write my own blog post in response, about some ideas I had for low cost strategies which any Council could put into practice – and which I hope some will.

If there is one thing this recession is doing, it’s getting us talking to each other more – sharing skills, expertise and good practice across sectors. That can only be a good thing. The Theatres Trust Conference 2013 is yet another example of that, and I’m pleased and proud to be part of it.

I hope you will be too.

thriving theatres and Local Authorities

by Lucy Westell, thriving theatres conference intern

Every news story about arts and culture seems to start by reminding the reader of the financial challenges facing the sector. On one level, this pattern probably just reflects the ongoing anxiety about the economic recession and its impact on our lives. On another level, however, it may also be aiming to educate the public about the financial obstacles facing a sector that already receives relatively low funding, and to make the benefits of investing in arts and culture clearly and routinely visible. Many of these efforts are emerging at a local level, from local authorities and communities, and are hoping to gain support by publicising how arts organisations use subsidies and the positive results of such investment.

The Theatres Trust’s forthcoming conference thriving theatres will address the affect ongoing financial cuts from central government are having on the ability of local government to deliver social programmes, and although increasing localism has granted them more control regarding how they distribute funds, with so little money their options are inevitably limited. Generally, the arts are viewed as lower priority and are thus experiencing significant, and in a few cases total, cuts to their funding. A number of local authorities have decided that such radical cuts to their arts budgets is a necessary sacrifice in order to maintain their statutory responsibilities. Nevertheless, a few are adopting a very different response, reflecting the autonomy which that comes with the decentralisation of power. A good example is the council of Cheshire West and Chester which has opted to invest in culture, situating it as the cornerstone of future economic growth. While many might see this as a risky move, it is arguably quite pragmatic in light of the proven economic return on cultural investment. In the conference issue of The Theatres Trust’s Theatres Magazine, Graham Lister, Project Director for Chester Theatre Library, reminds us that we should “not underestimate the power of the arts and culture to shape, influence and grow our cities”, and that local government are ideal bodies to stimulate such transformations.  In his inaugural speech as the new Chair of ACE, Peter Bazalgette similarly touched on his sense that despite economic hardship there is renewed commitment to the arts emerging within communities; he sees this approach as one which “contemplates bold new ways of doing things: fighting to create cultural prosperity first and, alongside it, economic prosperity”.

Local government is well positioned to be responsive to the needs of its constituents and by working on a smaller scale they can be imaginative with their cultural and economic strategies. Individual councils do not have to follow a specific response to the funding cuts from central government, but can charter their own path, ideally finding innovative ways to support many facets of their community. Ed Vaizey, in his address at the Local Government Association Conference in March, encouraged a proactive response to financial limitations, saying, “While we must all learn how to do more with less, it offers us the chance to think differently about how we go about delivering”.

thriving theatres will include a contribution from Flick Rea, Chair of the Culture, Tourism and Sport Board of the Local Government Association (LGA).  The LGA’s report “Driving growth through local government investment in the arts” (March 2013) explains that local councils should be key supporters for the arts because place inspires art and, in return, arts and culture help build communities and contribute to the local economy through employment, tourism and urban (re)development which have extensive knock-on effects. The connection between the arts and their economic output can be maximised using the resources of local authorities, who can catalyse and manage connections between the cultural industries, community groups, schools, and local businesses. This networking, which facilitates knowledge sharing, can provide the foundation for more sustainable arts organisations and more closely knit communities.

Despite all the evidence revealing the value of the arts economically and socially, not to mention the enjoyment of participants, it is an ongoing struggle to garner public support for investment in cultural activities. According to Arts Council England’s Stakeholder Focus Research from 2012, 44% of the general public supports government subsidisation of the arts, even though a greater proportion (78% according to the DCMS Taking Part survey) engages with cultural programming on an annual basis.

There seems to be a theory emerging that people do not support the subsidies of the arts because they do not understand where the money goes and are perhaps not explicitly aware of the economic and cultural returns on investment. National reports, such as that by the Local Government Association, are trying to clearly reveal the value of culture in economic and monetary terms while other initiatives are seeking to highlight their importance to individuals and within communities. My Theatre Matters! is a movement that is trying to rally individuals to show their support for local theatres by contacting their local councillors. Similarly, one of the objectives of the What’s Next? movement is to increase engagement with local government, encouraging individuals to contact their MPs and emphasising the campaigning value of public support. Furthermore, as an organisation it is useful to establish a positive relationship with local authorities who can help source funding and in-kind donations, develop partnerships, and give advice on licensing and policy; as Ruth Mackenzie said at the What’s Next conference on April 29, 2013, “Make friends, not demands” to help establish long-term relationships.

Peter Bazalgette Speech

Ed Vaizey Speech

Welcome to The Theatres Trust Conference 13 blog!

This blog is a forum where we can discuss topics related to the thriving theatres conference which will be held on June 11.

Each post to this blog can be categorised as ‘General’ or under one of the four topics we will be discussing during the conference sessions.

Here is a brief description of each session:

Opening the doors – theatres leading the way

This is the topic of our first session at Conference 13 and will address ways to harness community and social engagement through better use of theatre buildings.

We will hear from theatres whose capital projects are building their capacity to secure their future viability, community and social engagement – and are winning over hearts and minds.

Session Chair: Vikki Heywood

Deborah Aydon, Executive Director, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse
Ian Pratt, Vice Chairman and Technical Director, Kings Theatre Southsea
Jessica Hepburn, Executive Director and Joint Chief Executive, Lyric Hammersmith
Jiselle Steele, Regional Team and Partnership Manager, Livity, somewhereto_

Going local – the opportunities

Our second session of Conference 13 will look at how theatres can act locally to develop partnerships and new opportunities, including relationships with local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

New Government policies to promote greater local and neighbourhood ownership of planning decisions and community assets have created new opportunities for theatres. How can these help theatres take the initiative and secure their assets and future?

Session Chair: Nigel Hugill, Chair, The Royal Shakespeare Company and Executive Chairman, Urban&Civic

Martin Sutherland, Chief Executive, Northamptonshire Arts Management Trust
Martin Halliday, Chief Executive, Lowestoft Marina
Flick Rea, Chair, Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, Local Government Association

Keynote speech

Baroness Hanham CBE
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, followed by Questions to the Minister

Louder voices – speaking up for theatres as cultural and community assets

The third session of Conference 13 will be focused on how planning policy and practice affects theatres.

New planning initiatives also create new challenges to theatres future viability, operation and capital redevelopment plans. In this session we look at the impact of the Community Infrastructure Levy on theatres and arts centres, lessons learnt by theatres engaging with the planning system and how they need to be vigilant to the relaxation of planning regulations, and where they are taking the lead in developing new community based theatres and cultural facilities through being recognised as Assets of Community Value.

Session Chair: Dave Moutrey, Director & Chief Executive, Cornerhouse & Library Theatre Company

Alan Bishop, Chief Executive, Southbank Centre
Trudi Elliott CBE, Chief Executive, The Royal Town Planning Institute
Nica Burns, Chief Executive and co-proprietor, Nimax Theatres Ltd
Peter Steer, Director, Derby Hippodrome Restoration Trust

Survive or thrive?

The final session of Conference 13 will explore the economic opportunities and impact of theatres’ capital development.

What are the leadership qualities and capital strategies which can make the difference between surviving and thriving? In our final session we look at innovative schemes that have balanced risk and reward and created more financially, culturally and socially resilient theatres through implementing major capital and asset developments.

Session Chair: Anna Stapleton, Administrative Director, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Jim Beirne, Chief Executive, Live Theatre,  Newcastle
Colin Marr, Director, Eden Court, Inverness
Gemma Playford, Senior Project Manager, Arup
Neil Constable, Chief Executive, Shakespeare’s Globe, London
Jack Mellor, Theatre Manager, Theatre Royal, Plymouth

For more information or to register for Conference 13 thriving theatres go to

Keynote speech

Baroness Hanham CBE
Parliamentary Undersecretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government

Questions to the Minister