2019 – A Defining Year For Lincoln Drill Hall.

Just before Christmas CityX published a short blog I’d written looking at some of the highlights for Lincoln Arts Trust from 2018.  There were many, from hosting the only BBC Prom outside of London, an amazing production of Les Miserables in the summer, introducing a new Pay What You Decide programme that made all of our contemporary performance free up front with donations encouraged, to our most successful pantomime yet in Peter Pan.

However, now that the dust has settled on Christmas it’s time for our organisation to look ahead to 2019. Artistically it’s a really exciting year, mixing high quality big names such as Russell Watson, Jason Donovan, Fairport Convention, Rachel Parris, Ed Gamble and The Grimethorpe Colliery Band with exciting new theatre and performance from Vamos Theatre, Sonia Sabri, Lost In Translation Circus and Circus Xanti. Following last summer’s Les Miserables, we are looking forward to the same company, Jamie Marcus Productions, presenting CATS, once again with a cast comprising only young performers.  Our participatory work, giving people the chance to take part in the arts through youth theatres, workshops, dance classes both at Lincoln Drill Hall and other locations will continue to grow.  There’s lots to look forward to.

However, behind all that the reality of running a small charity reliant on public funding means that the financial challenges of keeping the organisation running in the way that our audiences and communities know and love is increasingly difficult.  2019 will be a crucial, future-defining year in our existence.

The Finances.

Next year we need to fundraise at least £130,000 to balance our books. If each one of the 45,000 people who come to see a show here added a donation of  just £3 to each ticket purchased, we’d smash the fundraising target for the year.

Let me explain.

We are a small venue with a capacity of 365 seats.  That means technically we have 133,225 available seats to sell if we opened every single day of the year with a performance. The average ticket price at Lincoln Drill Hall this year is £13.27.  And of that amount around 75% (quite rightly) goes to the artists and performers creating and presenting the work. We have a commitment to ensuring that across the board we offer the people of Lincoln affordable access to the arts.  The highest price we’ve sold a ticket at is £45 (Russell Watson), but we’ve had a number of free events and over 10,000 tickets each year are available for £12 or less.

So by doing a quick bits of mental arithmetic if we sold every seat, every night of the year at that average price we’d gross £1.76m from box office of which we retain around 25% or £441k. Unfortunately, I don’t know of a venue that sells out every single seat every night of the year. Last year it cost £800,000 to run our organisation, so even if we achieved total 100% sell out we’d still need to find an additional £359k to help us break even.  In reality though, with the size and types of shows we do and the fact that we do need to have some days off we actually have around 74,000 available seats this year. We’ll sell between 45 – 50,000 seats so we’ll retain around £149k from ticket sales.

The Public Funding.

Some of the gap has always been filled with public funding for which we are incredibly grateful. Arts Council England funds us through their National Portfolio. We receive around £49,000 per year to support our contemporary and risky performance programme and some of our participation work. Currently we also get an additional £8000 to deliver additional programmes of outreach work.

Our principal funder has always been the City of Lincoln Council – recognising that a thriving, varied arts and cultural offer is crucial to a modern developing city.  When I took up post in early 2013 the funding they gave was £277,000 per year with an expectation that this would rise at roughly 2% per year.  However, due to reductions in their own funding, instead it has reduced annually. Next year when we could have expected around £319,000 from them, we’ll receive £201,000,  a difference of £118,000.  Cumulatively by March 2021 (the last year of current reduction) in real terms we will have absorbed over £540,000 in funding cuts.  We’ll be looking to fill an annual gap of at least £140,000 every single year.  For a small charity that is simply not sustainable.

So what are we doing?

We’ve overhauled our ticketing and seating system to maximise the income we think is realistic from ticket sales. It’s not realistic to simply double or triple our ticket prices across the board, as audiences couldn’t afford it and we’d lose one of our charitable aims regarding affordability.  We do believe that we could add between £20-£30,000 each year.

We’re looking at new partnerships with organisations in the city that we can work with to open up new streams of revenue.

We’re fundraising. Philanthropy to arts causes, I was recently told, stands at about 1% of all charitable giving – and from that about 60% goes to 10 large organisations. So it is difficult, but my team and I are looking to constantly increase the fundraising that we do. However, even without the reductions to our public funding, we needed to fundraise at least £30,000 each year to break even.  As mentioned above, next year that figure is £130,000 minimum.

We’re ensuring that we’re valuable.  Follow this link to hear some stories about why people love Lincoln Drill Hall.

Providing opportunities for everyone to have a safe welcoming haven in which to enjoy engaging with the arts is key to our work.

Working out in the community will become more of a focus.  Already we’ve developed a relationship with the YMCA delivering youth theatre, Arts Award sessions and other opportunities for young people using their facilities in Lincoln to engage with the arts. Working with Lincoln’s Cultural and Arts Partnership we are looking for opportunities to bring new arts projects to communities across the city, including the continuation of the Arts Council Funded project, Mansions Of The Future.

We’re not sitting still, and haven’t been for the last 6 years as my team and I fight every day to preserve this amazing facility for Lincoln, but we need the support of the people of our city like never before.

What you can do?

There are loads of ways you can help. Buying more tickets (season tickets are available) and  encouraging friends and family to try us out. If you become  a friend or a member every pound you give helps us reach our target. If you introduce us to a friend or to your business you’re helping us to grow our family of supporters.

However, crucially and at its simplest, we’re asking our supporters to donate in addition to buying tickets.  One way of doing this is so simple and is to add a donation to your booking. As mentioned above, if each one of the 45,000 people who come to see a show here added just £3 to each ticket purchased, we’d smash the fundraising target for the year.  We’re also developing specific fundraising campaigns, following on from the Big Give Christmas Challenge, that gives us all the chance to ensure that this beautiful space remains an essential part of Lincoln’s future.

Work with us.

My trustees, staff and I will continue to fight for our organisation, to ensure that Lincoln Drill Hall thrives and really is Your Arts Centre in the city. Without this significant change though, Lincoln Arts Trust and therefore the Drill Hall in 2020 may be a very different organisation than the one we have now. I for one think that would be a real loss to our wonderful city.

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