Stage Tuesday, December 8th

The Courtyard in 'the performance of its life' to secure a future

As the panto “packs ‘em in” the Courtyard is playing out the performance of its life behind the scenes.

Mind the Gap, the fundraising drive to secure the centre’s future against a full cut of key Herefordshire Council funding, has raised £5,000 since its launch just over a month ago. CourtyardXmas

That leaves another £30,000 to be found by the end of March.

If that figure seems daunting, put it into perspective.

Over 30,000 young people - that is those aged between 4-20 - attended the Courtyard over 2014.

Translate that attendance into individuals… and have one of those individuals giving £1…

Then throw in the centre’s expected annual footfall of around 300,000 as the variable…

But where a “give or take” £1 million a year keeps the Courtyard open as is, business development manager Lucy Wells prefers the pragmatic to the abstract.

“We need to be raising around £2,000 a week to hit target,” she says.

The sum found so far is a return on the thousands of flyers and messages the centre has put out to promote Mind the Gap.

Donations, says Lucy, are being encouraged through “all possible channels”.

Key supporters, patrons and high level members have, as expected, led the way.

In those circles talk is not of whether the Courtyard - a registered charity - can survive, but what would be lost if the gap can’t be covered.

That loss doesn’t only account for what’s offered in house, but the range of award-winning – even pioneering – community outreach programmes.

The gap, then, opens up when the Council withdraws its remaining arts finding to the Courtyard at the end of the current financial year – a loss of around £130,000.

Mind the Gap means the cover the loss in seemingly achievable stages, with the first £35,000 in place by March.

The upbeat take bills the loss as the opening of a bold new chapter for a Courtyard entirely independent of the council funding it has benefited from since first opening its doors in 1998.

But even reducing as it has - from £326,000 a year to £130,000 last year - that funding has kept the Courtyard up with its running costs as a 360 day a year venue supporting that work in the wider community.

Courtyard chief executive Ian Archer stresses that the centre is not in danger of closing but faces a future where its work may have to suffer - and where the development of new community support projects may no longer be possible – with additional support from its public.

He told us: “The Courtyard is one of the most vibrant and outreaching arts centres in England, using the arts to add to the quality of community life across the county. 

“It is a vital organisation in the county and we want to remain a key part of the community for generations to come.

“We need the support of local people, through donations and ticket purchases, during the challenging times we face ahead.

“We are extremely grateful to those who already support our work throughout Herefordshire.”

THE COURTYARD – WHAT COULD YOUR DONATION DO

  • £5 provides materials for 20 children to do a workshop.
  • £15 supplies new toys for the children’s play area
  • £25 supports a bursary for a young person to attend Youth Theatre.
  • £50 heats the building for a day.
  • £250 pays for three hours of creative workshops with older people.
  • £1,000 covers a week’s energy costs.

Against the backdrop of Mind the Gap is an asset transfer deal that could set the scene for the Courtyard going solo.

In the summer, the centre pitched a 99 year asset transfer to Herefordshire Council as the basis for a bold £10 million expansion programme.

The council said it would pay nearly £13,000 towards the first stage of that programme - effectively covering planning application costs and found through the Economy, Communities and Corporate budget.

But the cabinet level decision came with the warning that not supporting the application would put at risk the financial sustainability of the centre once that reducing council subsidy was completely in April.

A 30,000 square foot extension to the Courtyard is seen as offering the centre as a base for culture initiatives in county currently renting in the commercial sector.

Herefordshire Council is the freeholder for the Courtyard.

In the past, the council has committed itself to subsidy deals worth up to £1,000 a day to The Courtyard.

In January 2014, The Courtyard agreed to a deal that saw its share of council funding fall annually to 2016 as follows:

  • 2013-14 - £208,867
  • 2014-15 - £189,705
  • 2015-16 - £130,543

As such, the expansion is seen as offering the means by which the Courtyard can achieve sustainability.

The stage one support represents the match funding Arts Council England would expect from Herefordshire Council for a successful application to the Arts Council capital funding programme.

Further consideration would be to support for Stage 2 - the actual asset transfer - subject to a sustainable business case.

Arts Council England has agreed that it would consider the value of the asset to be considered as match funding in any application the Courtyard made to the capital funding scheme.

Council support, then, represents the final contribution - either financially or in kind – that Herefordshire Council will make to the Courtyard following the cessation of the subsidy.

Where the council has received a written commitment from the Courtyard that they will not be the recipients of any further support from the council once the subsidy ends, the payment of the planning application fee is seen by the council as an “investment” in securing the centre’s future.

Proposing a £10 million expansion, the centre forecasts that it can secure a level of income that ensures financial sustainability.

The Courtyard Trust has been working on business case for the Arts Council England funding programme- intending to demonstrate how the increased revenue will manage the funding gap.

Arts Council England is said to be “monitoring the position” regarding the provision of support from Herefordshire Council, having indicated that it is “mindful to consider more favourably” requests for funding from organisations that have “positive and qualified support and relationships” with local authorities.

The proposal for the funding for the expansion is that it will be financed by £5 million from Arts Council England matched by £5 million the Courtyard believes it can raise through a range of sources such as Trust/foundations, wealthy individuals, corporate, and public subscription.

Any asset transfer would be backed by necessary legal notices to protect the council’s interests and ensure the centre’s future in arts and related community engagement.

Where the council has received a written commitment from the Courtyard that they will not be the recipients of any further support from the council once the subsidy ends, the payment of the planning application fee is seen by the council as an “investment” in securing the centre’s future.

The Courtyard asset transfer

KEY POINTS

If the Courtyard cannot deliver its proposed capital programme, there may be implications for the asset transfer and the centre’s ability to achieve a zero subsidy business case.

The Courtyard will need to make a formal application for consent to undertake the capital works to the council as their landlord.

That consent will include conditions as to how the works can be carried out.

It would be standard for the Courtyard as tenant to meet the landlord’s legal and surveyors costs in considering such an application.

In this instance, the planning costs will be met by the council as match funding for the project development grant.

The asset transfer would be subject to the following conditions:

- Responsibilities for repair and maintenance pass to the Courtyard.

- A covenant restricting the Courtyard’s use to its purpose as a community arts centre.

- There is an overage clause in the transfer agreement. At its simplest, an overage clause gives the vendor of a property the right to share in any subsequent increase in value that might occur as a result of planning permission being granted for redevelopment of all or part of the property.

- There is a Deed of Variation made to the lottery grant agreement transferring the lottery conditions to the Courtyard.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

- Should the Courtyard not succeed in raising the necessary funds for the project there is a risk that the future financial sustainability of the centre will need to be reviewed in relation to the end of the annual subsidy.

- Should the capital project cost more than £10 million, the Courtyard would need to rationalise the level of the project.

- Should the proposed capital scheme not get planning permission there is a risk to the future sustainability of the centre. Advice given in the pre planning application is intended to mitigate against this possibility.

- Should the Courtyard fail in its £5 million grant bid or raising the required match funding, the centre will need to rationalise the level of the project.

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

The expansion makes the Courtyard a “cultural hub” where groups and individuals involved in arts and culture initiatives rent office space side-by-side.

The hope is that this income, along with restaurant revenue from an expanded ground-floor cafe area, will be enough to fill the significant hole left when council authority funding is withdrawn.

The project timetable had an “open for use” target of 2017.

The scheme has been well received across the county’s creative sector, with 25,000 square feet already covered by expressions of interest.

Work would see the building extended to the south and west, covering some of the current car park.

The ground floor would include an expanded seating area for the restaurant as well as flexible space that could be used for rehearsals or classes.

Upstairs will be two floors, divided into smaller areas that could be rented out.

One example cites space for Hereford College of Arts graduates looking to set up in the area working alongside companies like the acclaimed 2Faced Dance who are already based at the Courtyard.

Donations to the Mind the Gap! appeal can be made in person at the Box Office, by phoning 01432 340555, online at www.courtyard.org.uk, by post (please send/hand in cheques to The Courtyard for attention of Lucy Wells), or by texting Need98 + £sum to 70070.

Do you want to write for Herefordshire Live? Get in touch on Facebook, Twitter or say hello@herefordshirelive.co.uk