Innovation: Does it take a crisis to make you really change?

At the first workshop in the gifts and donations stream – Innovation: Does it take a crisis to make you really change? - Katherine William-Powlett, Leadership and Innovation Consultant at NCVO, spoke with Jonathan Petherbridge (Creative Director, London Bubble Theatre) about some positive ways of engaging with crisis.

Jonathan described the crisis that London Bubble Theatre faced five years ago, when they received a letter from the Arts Council announcing they would be defunded. The Theatre was suddenly looking at losing about 65% of their funding in just three months (their London Councils funding was coming to an end later that year as well). They had to react quickly. They mounted a campaign that turned out to be unexpectedly effective – it didn’t reverse the Arts Council’s decision, but it did galvanise supporters the Theatre didn’t even know it had.

These relationships proved crucial as the Theatre considered how best to adapt to their new circumstances. They examined five or six different models for how to continue as a company even in the face of such a massive cut in funding. With each model they considered both what it would do and what its limitations were.

Ultimately they decided to focus more on their participatory work and community-based events. There were sacrifices and cutbacks – not being able to employ many professional actors, for instance – but it also created an opportunity to look at relationships and assets in a fresh light. They realised they had space to rent out, costumes they could sell, and overheads that could be reduced. A strengthened relationship with the audience also led the Theatre to consider crowdfunding. They used the football club Ebbsfleet United as inspiration for their own crowdfunding system, whereby audience members could buy a stake, giving them the right to suggest shows.

Another important theme that came up in the conversation was the idea of having an authentic voice, and the importance of having a strong, clear mission – both of which things helped London Bubble Theatre survive and evolve. Jonathan points out that having 65% of your funding cut with three months notice is not a good thing – but also that it’s important to be able to “think the unthinkable,” even (or especially) in the face of crisis.

The session raised some important key questions for participants to take away and consider:

What is your organisational mission? 

Could you hold to it in a crisis?

What are your assets? 

How could you use them more effectively?

What valuable relationships do yo have?

How could you approach them more creatively?

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