In the three and a half year period since the Arts Impact Fund opened for enquiries we’ve committed over £7.8 million to 23 investees, with an average loan size of £350,000 (ranging from £150,000 to £600,000). We’ve talked to nearly 300 organisations seeking over £47 million of repayable finance, held 15 investment committee meetings, presented 36 investment papers and talked about our work in Blackpool, York, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, London, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, US, Canada and Australia. But perhaps the data point we’re most proud of is that January 2019 saw our very first investee make their final repayment - which also happens to be 12 months ahead of schedule.
Back in July 2015 we were approached by Titchfield Festival Theatre, a charity-run amateur dramatics theatre based in Hampshire, operated entirely by volunteer enthusiasts. The theatre is hugely popular with the local community, staging up to 27 productions per year.
The organisation operates across three venues including the Great Barn, a 15th century structure (the third largest in Europe) near Titchfield Abbey that also functions as a wedding venue. The organisation also works out of a converted 1960s warehouse that sits a couple of miles down the road which had several issues including energy-inefficiency, poor temperature control and accessibility. It also needed a fresh lick of paint and a more welcoming front entrance for theatre-goers.
In response, the charity’s trustees had already set a plan in motion to refurbish and modernise the site. However, given that all prior surpluses were reinvested into productions, it had insufficient reserves to finance this. Titchfield Festival Theatre had already managed to raise a substantial amount for the project from social lenders Unity Trust Bank, secured on the Great Barn site, but faced a funding shortfall and this is when it approached the Arts Impact Fund.
In November 2015, Arts Impact Fund’s investment committee approved a £150,000 loan towards the theatre’s renovation. The plan included installing a new insulated roof, solar panels, a more energy efficient bio-mass boiler and grey-water recycling system. The interior would also undergo refurbishments to improve the quality of facilities available for both audiences and performers, making the theatre a place people wanted to perform in and audiences wanted to visit .
During the investment period, Titchfield Festival Theatre succeeded in growing its revenue by increasing the number of weddings held at the Great Barn, creating a viable commercial model whilst the theatre was being renovated. The second building has been completely transformed inside and out, bringing a Shakespeare’s Globe feel to rural Hampshire, with a multitude of new facilities and a remodeled facade. The charity also continued to develop its artistic offering and started a writers group, which to date has produced 30 new pieces of writing and 6 entirely new plays for 2019.
In addition to being a cultural leader in the community, Titchfield Festival Theatre uses theatre as an educational tool for young people and encourages active citizenship through volunteering. The educational offer is entirely free for schools as is it being subsidised by regular ticket sales. Two productions went out to schools in 2018, with another three planned for 2019. The theatre’s offer has grown as well, bringing in a larger youth audience than ever before. All of this means that Titchfield Festival Theatre is now the largest amateur theatre only fully green-sustainable theatre in Europe.
This has been a huge journey for Titchfield Festival Theatre and is a great example of how repayable finance is not just for large social enterprises. It also illustrates how an arts organisation can operate outside of the mainstream funding ecosystem (the charity has not received any grant funding from Arts Council England to date) - and be entirely volunteer-led, yet it can still be a successful business that can repay borrowed money, ahead of schedule. Titchfield Festival Theatre is now moving onto its next project, looking at further expansion and potential new sites based on demand from the local community and a growing audience.
More funders should see investing in social impact organisations as a benefit and not any riskier than investing in the latest tech start up. Arts and cultural managers also need to be open to exploring impact investment as a solution alongside traditional sources of finance such as grants and donations. We encourage more diversity and innovative thinking of this sort in the arts and cultural sector and hope this marks the beginning of more organisations like Titchfield Festival Theatre reaping the benefits of social impact investment.