Pick of the Month - June 2022
1 June 2022 | By Faye Edwards
This month marks the halfway point of our 2022 picks showcasing individuals that are facilitating great work across the charity sector. In this month’s feature, we spoke to the Founder of a social enterprise inspiring well-being through dance, one of Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy’s 2020 Fundraising Fellows, the Chief Executive of ‘the creative heart of the Fens’ and a Trustee for a Charity inspiring young people in Manchester to maximise their potential.
Social Entrepreneur of the Month – Sophie Simpson, SS Dance & Wellbeing
Sophie Simpson is the Founder and Chief Wellbeing Officer at SS Dance & Wellbeing, a community organisation based in Yorkshire which inspires well-being, confidence, and happiness through dance. The organisation aims to minimise inactivity, isolation and low mental health through dance movement therapy and dance fitness activities that are accessible to a wide range of people, communities and organisations.
“I focus on breaking down the barriers to participation in dance and making it accessible for those who would not normally have the opportunity to take part. As an organisation, I am passionate about promoting the beneficial impact that dance can have on people’s physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. My role as Chief Wellbeing Officer involves delivering dance movement sessions within NHS hospitals, adult day services, care homes, social housing, mental health hubs, dance studios and community centres.”
Reflecting on the impact of the pandemic on her work, Sophie said:
“At the start of the pandemic, all SS Dance & Well-being operations came to a halt, partner organisations closed contracts for the foreseeable, and all studios and centres were closed. The organisation took a massive hit when I was unable to deliver sessions face-to-face. This automatically threw me into sink or swim mode but having built this idea up from scratch I was not letting it go without a fight. To ensure that I could still work within my social mission, I adapted my services to enable me to continue to reach people through dance via alternative digital platforms. I now offer online subscriptions and hybrid dance sessions to continue moving forward during these times.”
Sophie offered her advice for anyone starting out in the sector:
“Know your ‘why’ and make sure that your values are clear. Everything that you do and the people that you partner with should match up with your values. It’s important to ensure that you get the balance right in terms of your social impact and the actual enterprise. Always lead with your passion.”
Looking forward to the future of the sector, Sophie said:
“The way the sector is funded needs to be developed as you are currently only rewarded with more funding if your outcomes have been positive. There isn’t much room for social entrepreneurs to report difficulties and setbacks as we all have failures. The sector needs to promote more innovation and support creativity by giving more leeway with funding, hence allowing for more effective opportunities to enable social enterprises to grow.”
Hear more about Sophie’s work at SS Dance & Wellbeing on Twitter at @SS_Wellbeing
Fellow of the Month – Thomas Ryalls, Boy and Pen
Thomas Ryalls took part in the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Fellowship programme in 2020 whilst in post as Head of Fundraising for Stockroom, a mid-scale touring theatre company. Tom is a writer and fundraiser, working on attachment to the Royal Court exploring disabled dramaturgy and to the Oxford Playhouse as part of its playmaker programme. Tom is simultaneously working with other organisations to develop their fundraising strategies and delivering bids through his newly launched company, Boy and Pen! (BAP!), which produces projects and offers funding consultancy.
Tom told us a little bit about their work at the moment and what they have been up to since taking part in the Fellowship programme:
“I recently set up my own company called BAP! Only certain people in society are ever taught they can imagine what the future should look like, but we're trying to change that. We do have a production branch where we produce shows and community programmes, but a lot of our work is based around sharing our fundraising knowledge with organisations that are trying to do the same thing. All of our methodology revolves around helping artists and organisations, and then making ourselves disappear as they no longer need us, we think of it as cultural organising and building resilience into ambitious parts of the sector.
The other big thing is that I recently joined the London Area Council of ACE, meaning I sit on the body of 12 people who oversee areas including the formation of the NPO process. I hope to bring a lot from my work with the Disability Advisory Group, and more generally as a young member of the LAC, a different perspective. It's a daunting year because we're about to reform the national portfolio, but I'm excited to support that process!”
Reflecting on their time as an Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Fellow and what sticks with them today, Tom said:
“I was more of a baby-fundraiser then. I was about to step into my first proper full-time role where I was called ‘a fundraiser’, even though I had been fundraising for a long time under different titles. It really cemented in me the fact that I wanted to be a fundraiser, it's a craft which brings together both the creative and analytical sides of me. If I could, I would do it again now as I'm probably in a better position, in terms of understanding my practice, to make the most of that learning. I think that’s the thing that sticks with me the most.”
Moving on from the pandemic, Tom said:
“I work with a lot of other disabled creatives. For a lot of my projects, we're still fundraising for significant budget lines to protect the people we work with, and some buildings aren't supportive of that. It has created big splits in the industry, but I do think there's now a growing movement that is beginning to understand that COVID must factor into your access plans. If you don't make your space adequately safe, then it's not accessible.”
Finally, we asked Tom what they hope to see change in the sector:
“The list is long, but the thing I work most on is always money. The challenge with money, is that the sector is often doing its best within a national financial system that you can't change just by changing the sector. The way we distribute money in large areas of the world is unfair and broken, it's what compounds a lot of marginalisation by keeping certain groups in precarity so they can't effectively organise to change their situation. I'd like to think that within our sector, we can find some better ways of organising it, whilst also trying to steer the national and global conversation towards a better way of organising money and resources. We're going to quickly become an irrelevant function of society if we don't engage with the issue and do something.”
Charity Leader of the Month – Claire Somerville, Babylon Arts
Claire Somerville is Chief Executive at Babylon Arts, a very busy cross-arts organisation, looked after by a small team based at the riverside gallery in Ely. Babylon Arts can be thought of as ‘the creative heart of the Fens’, working to develop creativity and connect communities with arts and culture.
Reflecting on Babylon Arts’ mission, Claire summarised its work:
“People are often surprised to find out about the range of work that we do as they might know us as 'just' an art gallery or cinema, but we've been here for 27 years, nurturing creativity and connecting communities with arts and culture.”
Claire told us a bit about her journey to becoming Chief Executive at Babylon Arts and what her current role involves:
“Before becoming CEO here nearly 4 years ago, I was Head of Children & Young People's Dance at One Dance UK, and before that, I had woven my way through various roles specialising in developing opportunities for young people in dance, including the development of the national youth dance festival. I'd also spent 2 years working at Babylon Arts, 14 years ago, as a project manager, so it's always held a special place in my heart and I've enjoyed coming back to run the organisation, having known it through another role previously.
My role now seems to involve just about every facet of an arts charity’s operations. Particularly as we have such a small team at the moment, I need to play a hands-on role, as well as a strategic leadership role - which can be rather challenging! I have an active dialogue with a great board of Trustees about all our governance matters and work with the team to programme our venue-based activities, as well as outdoor events. A lot of my time is also spent in partnership development and fundraising - which can be the greatest giver of energy, but also the greatest taker.”
Offering her advice to prospective CEOs, Claire said:
“Take time to get to know the organisation and team - if necessary, this might mean saying that a big decision should wait until you know more. If you're coming from a role that is very delivery focused, think about how you'll balance that urge to get stuck in, with the strategic needs of the organisation, and how you'll keep on track - this is something I definitely grapple with. We're in the arts because we love being involved in the seeing and doing of it (usually anyway!) so it's not surprising those funding applications and HR issues seem rather less attractive. Consider if you really want to switch your focus in this way and how you'll continue to be excited about what you're doing.”
Finally, we asked Claire to summarise her hopes for change in the sector:
“I felt that people were a bit kinder to each other through the COVID lockdowns - we all seemed to better understand the need for flexibility and the importance of considering the needs and interests of our communities. So, I guess this isn't something to change, but something I hope will continue.”
Keep up to date with what’s going on at Babylon Arts on Twitter at @BabylonArtsEly
Trustee of the Month – Rishi Kapoor, Z-Arts
Rishi Kapoor is the Founder and CEO of Paus.tv, a global streaming platform for creators without ads or monthly subscriptions. He is also a Trustee on the Board for Z-Arts, a Charity and arts centre based in Manchester which supports creativity in children, young people, and families. An Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation, its mission is to inspire and enable generations of young people from across Manchester and beyond to utilise their creativity to maximise their potential.
Speaking about what first motivated him to become a Trustee, Rishi said:
“I’ve worked in the private and corporate sector throughout my career, so I felt a real gap or need to just give something back. It was also motivated by thinking about what legacy and impact I want to make within my current capacity and domain. Z-Arts resonated with me due to its focus on creativity and community. Whilst being a Trustee can be onerous in terms of time and responsibility, it is incredibly fulfilling and the value you get back from being a Trustee is probably 10-fold the value you are trying to contribute.”
Rishi reflects on the highlight of his Trustee experience so far:
“Honestly, the highlight is being a consumer of the organisation I am part of. When I go and experience Z-Arts as a member of the public and I see the value it gives people, that is the highlight for sure.”
To summarise, Rishi offers some advice to anyone considering taking up Trusteeship:
“There is a steep learning curve, and it will take up lots of your time, so you have to be passionate about the cause. However, it will build your character and skillset very quickly in a very positive way.”
Check out Z-Arts on Twitter at @Z_arts_mcr