Live Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne is recognised on the international stage as one of the leading UK producers of new writing for theatre, nurturing and championing new writers and new plays, new actors, designers and theatre makers. It boasts a glowing list of alumni and productions including playwrights Lee Hall, Tom Hadaway, and Alan Plater; actors Trevor Fox and Robson Green; and critically acclaimed productions including Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, The Pitmen Painters and A Northern Odyssey. Live Theatre has a vital role in producing new theatre of artistic and cultural excellence and this year alone its productions have graced stages in London, the United States and Australia.
A strong social and community focus has been central to the organisation from the outset and a breadth of educational and outreach activities, many of which are free and engage young people and hard-to-reach communities in the North East, are on offer. As such Live Theatre’s main social impact lies in improving the confidence and literacy of young people and raising their aspirations through its drama workshops in schools, 500-member strong youth theatre, productions by, with and from children and young people, and its newest venture, Live Tales, a children and young people’s writing centre. All of which are congruent with the needs of a region where unemployment and basic skills shortages are prevalent.
Live Theatre is a powerful example of an arts organisation developing an effective and entrepreneurial cross-subsidy model. It has purchased and developed nearby property leasing it out on models of traditional rental income and of rental income based on turnover of its hospitality partners. The proceeds of these activities go towards the core work of Live Theatre and complement its more traditional grant-based funding.
Whilst grants still comprise the single biggest category of income, the diversification of its income is helping Live Theatre to gain greater financial resilience and become more impactful. With this in mind, Live Theatre approached the Arts Impact Fund for a £600,000 loan that will allow the company to refurbish a dilapidated Grade II listed building on one of Newcastle’s premium waterfront sites and convert it for restaurant use, making the most out of the asset. The enterprise itself will be run and managed by a commercial business partner, following similar models which Live Theatre has developed successfully elsewhere. The income generated will go towards supporting its core participation and educational activities.
Live Theatre has prior experience of using social investment to grow its commercial operations and charitable work, which the fund team was impressed by. In the course of due diligence, the team reviewed how the new commercial venture would sit within the organisation’s existing portfolio of assets and liabilities. The team also assessed the venture’s business model and revenue projections, and spoke with the key people who would be involved in running the new restaurant.
During the repayment period, Live Theatre will be expected to make progress towards becoming more rigorous in the evaluation of its social impact. It will work with Northumbria University as an external evaluator to define a set of learning outcomes for a new educational programme, Live Tales, which focuses on creative writing and literacy workshops for young people. It also offers opportunities for skills improvement for teachers and adult volunteering.
The Live Theatre example shows how social investment can repeatedly help an entrepreneurial arts organisation that has community engagement at its heart. The Arts Impact Fund loan will help Live Theatre expand and diversify its earned income streams, reducing its dependence on diminishing pots of grant funding, so that it can continue delivering the impact it is renowned for.