2011/12 was one of the most challenging but hugely satisfying years I can remember during my years at Northern Ballet. We started the year on the crest of a wave having moved into our stunning new building and I will never forget the pride I felt on the day of the Royal opening and knowing that I played a major part in making this happen. Whatever I do or don't achieve in the future nobody can ever take that away from me. The fact that the building has won many accolades since was just the icing on the cake particularly "Best Arts Project" in the National Lottery Awards and collecting the awards on live TV with Martha Leebolt (premier dancer) on my arm.
At the end of March, cuts in Government funding to the arts and the announcement of a significant reduction in our funding from Arts Council, England for 2012/15 were a devastating blow (15% across the board for all ballet and opera companies). Perhaps naively I had believed that the fact that we had the new building, were delivering far more performances than any other ballet company and that our grant was significantly less, we would be protected.
From day one, we made our feelings known on TV, radio and in the press but we knew immediately that we needed to get on with remedying the situation and there was no time to spare. Many Arts organisations would be targeting the same small pool of funders and we needed to be their first. Discussing our options with David Nixon (Artistic Director) was one of the hardest things we have had to do in our 11 years of working together particularly when we mutually came to the disastrous decision that we might have to reduce our dancers from 40 to 30. It felt like a personal failure as I always see it as my job to fix things and to find a way to make everything happen. Making up such a huge gap in funding was going to be the most difficult challenge ever but I was determined that whatever happened losing dancers had to be the last resort.
Working with the fundraising team we came up with a range of initiatives designed to support our key priorities - to create new work, to cover as much of the UK as possible on our tour, to maintain live music and protect our people. Our "Buy back a Dancer" campaign secured £300K towards dancers' salaries and this was supplemented by the public facing "Sponsor a Dancer campaign" which has raised £80K to date.
I hated having to use the dancers as collateral but it seemed to be the only way to protect them. I firmly believe that it is the dancers' job to perform and our job to raise the money to make the performances happen and whereas they are huge assets in engaging our supporters this additional burden does need to be contained by the various administrative teams wherever possible. We also put together a portfolio of funders towards our next three new productions with £375K secured to date. Touring is hugely expensive and for most companies a loss maker. At Northern Ballet, the size of our company means that in most venues we generate enough box office income to cover our touring costs. A recent grant of £100K has meant that those less viable venues can remain on our circuit.
By the end of 2011/12 the company is stronger than ever and the whole team has pulled together to ensure that we are achieving maximum income. £1.2M is in place towards our three-year target of £1.8M. This is double our original fundraising target for the three year period and exceptionally all of the funding for 2012 is in place before the start of the year meaning that we are no longer living hand to mouth. We continue to work towards maintaining a full company of dancers for 2013. Tickets sales are up and we are generating significant income from the imaginative use of our building.
Past achievements aside I seriously fear for the future with another spending round imminent in 2015 with further cuts already rumoured. Arts Council England are carrying out a review of all the major ballet companies and at this stage who knows what the outcome will be - closure of companies, mergers? What I do know is that replacing statutory funding with philanthropy next time will be even tougher. After spending 25 years contributing to making this company the success that it is today, it is hugely depressing to think that all of that could be under threat and at best under huge pressure.