At the beginning of January we received a fantastic letter at Lincoln Drill Hall from an audience member that contained a donation of £500.00. The donor was a Grandmother who’d been to see her daughter perform in a youth theatre production. Before that night her previous visit to the venue had been in the post-war 1940’s when she and her friends used to come to the venue for dances, attended by RAF personnel both from here and abroad. She told us that the Drill Hall was where she’d met her husband of 69 years. It was a very moving letter. And why after all that time did she feel moved to donate such an amazing amount of money? Because, as she put it…
‘I should hate to see that the Drill Hall had been shut down as I hope that people will continue to enjoy the venue as I did as a Teenager. I still keep the memories close to my heart and I want to give this donation to keep the joy of the Drill Hall alive.’
That pretty much sums up the purpose of our job here. We are custodians of this venue, striving to ensure its future for the people of Lincoln. The team has delivered an incredible service in the five years I’ve been with the organisation.
We’re doing this in times of continuing uncertainty, so a year ago I convened a planning day for my senior staff and trustees. The purpose of the day was to start to examine top to bottom what Lincoln Drill Hall offers to our community and to see where we could grow our organisation.
The main reason for doing this was the knowledge of financial challenges that lie ahead. Despite huge cuts to their budgets from Central Government, the City of Lincoln Council had in late 2016 signalled their continued commitment to invest in Lincoln having a professional arts centre that served communities across the city.
However, their commitment couldn’t continue at the same level as previously promised. To give an idea, when the charity was originally formed the City Council had indicated that in 2017-18 we would receive c£306k in funding. The reality is that we received £231k. We also know that over the next three years that figure will drop considerably again. By 2021 we will receive around £185k per year, an overall reduction of nearly 50% or £140,000.00.
Our planning day looked at how we could resiliently and sustainably replace that significant annual gap.
One year on and we’ve put some real building blocks in place. We’ve completely overhauled our ticketing and seating systems, ensuring that for every event we are making the most out of every ticket sale. Audiences are now offered a wider range of ticket prices for most events depending upon where they want to sit. We are encouraging customers to book earlier to get the best seats at the best prices. We will continue our commitment to encouraging a wide breadth of audience so there are always at least 1500 seats each season priced at £12 or less. There will be seats available for many returning artists this year at cheaper rates than before.
We are seeing our earned income starting to rise. But let me give you an example of earned income for us. We have 365 seats in the venue. Except on rare occasions the very top ticket price we charge for anything is £30. So if we sell out an event at that price the event will bring in £11,000.00 Happy days.
Well sort of. Once you break that down and take the artist share off, as well as VAT our actual income from that event drops considerably. On average we retain between 20-25% of each ticket sold. The majority quite rightly goes to the artist. We’d retain a net amount of around £2,000 for that event. Still a great win, but when set against the need to raise an additional £140,000 a year suddenly, for ticketing to fill that gap alone we’re asking the people of our city and surrounding areas to sell out at least 70 shows of this type each year on top of what we already programme.
We know that earned income is one piece of the puzzle to sustaining our venue, but it can’t be the only one. We’re having conversations with organisations in the city to widen the range of people we work with and who invest in us and our work. We’re using a small uplift in funding from Arts Council to deliver more work out in communities, introducing our venue to more people who perhaps currently don’t think we’re ‘for them.’ We are re-framing our programming, creating space to present more entertainment, work that will resonate with our audiences and encourage them to come out more, but with the support of Arts Council England ensuring that we continue to present a breadth of work, take artistic risks and support emerging artists. We are incredibly thankful for their continued investment.
And we continue our fundraising efforts, encouraging deeper support from people who love us, those who ‘Know The Drill’. New memberships schemes are on offer, chances to give something back to the venue and be a deeper part of our story. Specific fundraising campaigns have been developed such as our successful Big Give Christmas Challenge which recently raised £7,500 towards our participation work with children and young people.
The Big Give Christmas Challenge provided a real springboard for the whole staff team at the venue to get behind a fundraising campaign. It created a renewed sense of purpose for all of us that we’ll build on. We are fighting to ensure that Lincoln has the arts and entertainment centre it deserves and would love to talk to anyone inspired to help us make it happen.