Time for Transformation.

Somebody asked me that age old refrain the other day, ‘Where is 2017 going?’

It’s true, in the blink of an eye it’s almost the end of February and instead of basking in the glow of our most successful pantomime season ever, we’ve already held detailed planning meetings about our 10th  year anniversary panto for next Christmas.

2017 is a pivotal year for us at the Drill Hall.  We need to thoroughly re-imagine the sort of organisation that we want to be to thrive, actually to simply survive in continuing difficult times.  We’ve just submitted our application to Arts Council England for funding under their National Portfolio programme which, if successful will secure £800,000 plus for 5 venues in the county between 2018 and 2022.

We’ve just signed off a new Service Level Agreement with our biggest public funder the City of Lincoln Council.  That also runs from 2018 for three years.  We are incredibly grateful for their support, however circumstances are now at a critical point.  Having absorbed year on year cuts totalling around £75,000 in a permanent reduction to our council grant from 2013, pressures on their budgets from central government cuts mean that we will be receiving a further 25% reduction between 2018 and 2021.

In real terms that is an overall reduction of around £140,000 annually which, whilst recognising that public sector support is still bringing significant investment into the venue, also provides a major challenge for the organisation.  As we plan for the next 5-6 years we need to earn and fundraise that £140,000.00 in additional income every year.  It’s a challenge we’re looking to meet head on.

We started in January with a team away day that looked root and branch at our current activity, how we might deliver that in a different way to maximise income. We discussed and analysed potential new areas of work that we might do to develop new revenue streams and we also started to look at what activity we currently do that we might no longer do in the future.

The day involved senior staff and trustees and was incredibly useful.  Staff felt galvanised to take up the baton to help secure our future.  Already we’ve started researching dynamic ticket pricing, restructuring our seating plans for events, looking at where we might need capital investment to bring all of our existing rooms into better use and looking at new ways to provide merchandising opportunities linked to our work.

Over the next couple of months we’ll be pulling together a full transformation plan that keeps art at the heart of the organisation, but changes the way that this might be programmed and delivered.  It will sit alongside our evolving fundraising strategy as we look to grow support from individuals and businesses in the city.  That’ll be crucial.  We need to reach more supporters, to grow our family of regular individual investors, growing the philanthropic support to help us continue to change lives, place and perception across Lincoln. We’ll need a range of conversations with more businesses in the city, communicating that an investment in arts and cultural facilities is more than just helping out or a nice thing to do, but a vital investment for their own business future, good for the development of a thriving city, good for recruitment and retention of staff and good for attracting new businesses to the area.

We will need the help of our existing family of supporters, the people that already buy tickets for our show, make donations, become friends and members, and sponsor the organisation.  Your passion, ideas, and support for our evolution will be essential in driving us forward.  Your advocacy for the Drill Hall and what we offer can convince your friends, family and colleagues that any 21st century city needs a thriving cultural scene if it is itself to thrive. We can’t stand still. We can’t continue to rely on old fashioned or traditional sources of public funding.  The challenge for us is to galvanise the whole city to ensure our future.  Please do get in touch with us at the venue if you have ideas, thoughts or want to help us achieve these aims.

And that word ‘evolution.’  That’s at the heart of what we need to do.  The Drill Hall has evolved many times in its 126-year history.  From the original use as a place of military training, as a makeshift hospital, as a dance hall, live music venue through to a place to go and see wrestling and take part in a roller disco, right through to our role as a key provider of arts and entertainment since we re-opened in 2004, Lincoln Drill Hall has taken on many guises.

We simply need to evolve again if we’re to continue offering communities across Lincoln, those who live, work in and visit our wonderful city, the great cultural asset it deserves.