From a start-up at a desk in a disused barn, to a thriving theatre company raising arts engagement in its community – Full House co-Creative Director Harriet Hardie on how good financial management can be transformational.
In 2011 I, and my fellow Royal Central School for Speech and Drama graduate Ben Miles set up Full House Theatre with the core vision ‘for every child to hold treasured memories of theatre’. We create, programme and develop theatre and performance projects for, by and with children and young people, working across communities in Bedfordshire.
In our early days, when the company was just the two of us, our office space consisted of a farm building in rural Bedfordshire, which was freezing cold in the winter and use of the facilities involved a trek across a working farm yard. Our turnover in 2002 was a little over £9,000. We moved on to a small serviced office – funded by Bedford Borough Council – in 2009 and the following year we were joined by our administrator Sophie. In the years since then we’ve set up our more permanent home in a lovely office in Ampthill, and have a team of four additional permanent staff supporting our work. We changed our legal entity to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation earlier this year and our 2015/16 our turnover was just over £227,000.
Coming from an arts rather than a financial background, and without resources to employ a finance officer in the early days, my approach to financial planning and management is to some extent self-taught. I’ve learnt so much in the last 15 years, not least because of the support of our Board of Trustees, which has a really broad range of cross-sector experience. We’re a project-funded organisation and so a robust and rigorous financial track record has been instrumental in gaining funding from a variety of local authority funding sources, trusts, foundations, NHS and charities. We secured our first Arts Council England funding in 2010 and have been successful in receiving further Grants for The Arts in 2013, 2015 and 2016. In 2016 we were successful with our largest funding application yet: an Arts Council England Strategic Touring project. This increasing support from Arts Council England as well as other sources of funding has enabled us in recent years to leverage funding from other well-known large grant providers such as Children in Need and the Heritage Lottery Fund. As a small charity we’re adept at making a little go a long way and getting great value for money and in the last few years we’ve been able to patchwork fund our projects and start to see greater financial stability.
I still lead on our funding applications but now have a team to support this, from researching facts and figures to liaising with our graphic designer on the attachments needed, enabling me to concentrate on the all-important wording and budgets. In terms of company financial administration, I still manage the company finances but I now have a General Manager to help with payroll, an administrator to help with inputting and filing, and an accountant who comes in once a month to reconcile everything. We’re working towards building our reserves, as with higher turnover comes higher risk. For the first time this year our business planning will also include compiling a risk register for our organisation, much of which is financial.
Time and experience has helped me to learn as I’ve gone along but I am thorough and my attention to detail serves me well in ensuring that I am able to manage our budgets successfully.
Elves and the Shoemaker, Full House Theatre ©mubsta.com