Since The Spring closed in the middle of March friends, family and acquaintances have asked me why some of the team at The Spring are still working. “What on earth could there possibly be to do in an arts centre and museum that is closed?” I wanted to use this blog to answer some of those questions and to talk a little bit about our ongoing work. We may be locked down, but we’re not out.
At The Spring we love our community. We are so much more than just an arts centre or museum. We support thousands of different people, groups and organisations each week, including Parkinson and MS support groups, a new breastfeeding support group and hundreds of individuals who use our building as a safe, friendly place in the centre of Havant. Everyone is always welcome.
Closing our doors and knowing it was not safe for us to be there for our community was devastating. We have since described those first few days of closure as a trauma. That might sound dramatic, but for a group of people who love what they do and the organisation in which they work, it really was.
In times of crisis, there is no opportunity to reflect and take stock of what has happened. No chance to breathe and think clearly. We were losing nearly 50% of our income and had no opportunity to generate any more. We entered survival mode.
We immediately cancelled a huge number of events and made some difficult staffing decisions – including furloughing 76% of our team. The remaining staff all cut their hours by 20%, taking us to the equivalent of three members of full-time staff. Those still working began to do so from home. Since then not all of our limited time has been spent on work that is immediately visible, but I promise that every second has been used in the best interest of The Spring and our community.
So, what have we been doing? Well, the to-do list has been long and varied. We have cancelled 189 performances and film screenings, 175 workshop sessions, over 1,350 hours of community activity and 3 exhibitions. Each cancellation involves conversations with the performer, tutor, artist or organiser. Rearranging dates has taken a long time as the whole performing arts industry reels and tries to imagine when being in a theatre space might be safe and viable again. Then, even after the production admin is complete, we have to let our audiences know. We have contacted all of our customers individually to let them know about a change to their event. Every customer has been offered a refund, credit voucher or asked if they would consider donating the ticket value. Helen, our box office manager, has handled it all brilliantly, but it’s a lot of work and, although it’s wonderful that our customers want to chat about how we are, it is tiring.
As well as cancelling events we have been arranging events online. Just because we can’t be with our community in person we still feel we have a lot to offer! We moved our monthly book group onto Zoom, filmed a storytelling show by Professor Sue Harper, launched a new online film review club and have arranged and streamed so many events that I’m losing count. This has all been possible thanks to our colleagues across the industry who have worked with us and shared content. But it all involves decisions and work at our end too. Amy, our Audience Development Manager, has kept on top of it all admirably. She has been responsible for the weekly emails sent to audiences, the near-constant update of the website as things change and the ongoing answering messages and updating social media. We are in awe of her as she does this part-time whilst working at another museum!
Alongside communicating with our customers, there are our 113 volunteers we were determined to keep in touch with. They are life-blood of The Spring and we wanted to make sure they were okay. Sue, our General Manager has been in regular contact with them, keeping everyone cheery with bright and breezy emails and calls. She has delivered emergency supplies to those shielding and has done all of this on top of her usual jobs of managing the café and shop and undertaking what can only be described a mountains of admin and overseeing health and safety.
Richard, our Deputy General Manager, has been busy too. The poor chap is in charge of our IT and he’s been a constant rock, sorting our issues with home working at various anti-social hours while we all try to balance working with home responsibilities. In addition he’s been managing the building while we’re closed. When you’re based in a less-then-new venue there are constant worries about flooding, pests and now appropriate cleaning too. All more important than in many other venues because of the valuable heritage collection we hold.
Our Finance Manager Clayre has also been working hard. Although she only works for us two days a week she has created more financial forecasts than I care to think – around 12 I think in two months. This is on top of managing the audit which took place in April, creating management accounts, supplying me with endless figures for fundraising applications and continuing to make sure we make payments and keep up with bookkeeping.
Personally, my role has been all about decisions. Rearranging events, working out what we can – and should – say yes to and what we can’t – and how to keep The Spring going. We have calculated we will need to raise £190,000 over the next three years. Unfortunately, we have been ineligible for most government support and grants because of our building’s rateable value and, like many theatres, our business interruption insurance does not cover us for Covid-19 disruption. To help us begin to address this I have submitted nearly £156,000 of fundraising applications. Alongside this, I have been trying to support the staff, communicating with our funders, board members and donors and asking hundreds of questions, both internally and with partners across the region and sector, about what the future might look like. They have certainly not all been happy conversations.
And all of this is before we mention the planning the whole team has already done around possible reopening. Yes, we are forming a plan! It’s not ready to share yet but it’s in progress.
I have written before about how proud I am to lead the team at The Spring. Every day they have amazed me with their dedication, creativity and determination. But a team can only continue to work at this level for so long without needing a break. This is one reason why the board and I have made the decision to furlough the rest of the team for three weeks. The government’s job retention scheme means we can manage this without having to worry about salaries. By taking this decision now we will be able to further shore up the organisation by returning on an even-more part time basis over the next four months. Overall, we will be putting ourselves in the best position – both financially and mentally – to ensure a strong come back when the time is right.
So, please bear with us in June. Our fantastic trustees are stepping up to help us out – so our book group and film review club events will continue and you will still see some social media posts, but all other work, except security and statutory checks, will stop. We will rest, recharge and recuperate. But we will be back and we will be ready for the next stage.
For now, we are down but we are certainly not out.