MeWe360 (MeWe) is a creative hub that combines a not-for-profit development house for arts practitioners and creative entrepreneurs (MeWe Foundation) with a wholly owned trading arm (MeWe Trading CIC) that offers work and event space for hire to commercial clients in the sector; the profits received are ploughed back into the charity to support other up and coming entrepreneurs.
Founded in 2011, MeWe’s ambition is to find and test new and more effective approaches to driving diversity in the arts and creative sector. The organisation's membership-based incubator provides bespoke networking, mentoring, leadership and business development support, focusing in particular on arts and creative entrepreneurs from ethnic minority backgrounds, which currently make up 70% of all members. By investing both in the development of BAME creative talent and in the growth and resilience of their enterprises, MeWe not only creates benefits for its individual beneficiaries but equally supports new artistic creation that better meets the needs of people from diverse communities. To this end, member-led activities, such as exhibitions, rehearsals, showcases or collaborative events, are greatly encouraged and where possible, MeWe steps in to provide logistical support.
MeWe has been running successfully for the past five years, taking on two buildings in London’s Soho area that together provided 60 desks for creative businesses and nearly 2000 sq.ft of hub space for members. Due to their premium location, however, both buildings came with short-term leases, so the organisation had to keep looking for new opportunities all the while continuing to grow its business. With the end of its tenancy drawing near, MeWe was lucky to find a new site at 13 Soho Square, just moments away from its current premises, and negotiate favourable terms for a 5-year lease from its freehold owner. Arts Impact Fund came in to provide investment of £150,000 towards the deposit and refurbishment costs for the property to be repaid over a five-year period.
Before approving the investment, the Arts Impact Fund team scrutinised the revenue forecasts for the site and compared it to MeWe’s current space. The proximity of the two buildings and continuity of the business model were central factors that underpinned the reliability of management’s assumptions. We also probed into the business’ sensitivities, and spoke with MeWe’s board of trustees to understand the organisation’s historic growth and discuss how they see its long-term development.
Our support will help MeWe transition more effortlessly into the new space without depleting its cash reserves, and focus instead on re-accommodating its members and scaling up its activity. The new site will offer the organisation almost double its current space, which means that it will be able to support even more creative entrepreneurs and businesses as well as increase its profit. This will provide some much needed medium-term stability for the business, while it continues to search for more long-term, self-sustaining premises.
All this comes back to helping MeWe’s social mission of nurturing untapped BAME creative talent and being an example for the sector of a sustainable way to develop diverse-led creative enterprises and artistic production. In recognition of its commitment and achievements, the organisation recently received National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status from Arts Council England which secured funding for the next four years. Going forward, MeWe will build on this success to expand regionally; already, more than a third of its beneficiaries are based outside London and this is the fastest growing segment of MeWe’s membership. Responding to this demand, the organisation piloted several small-scale initiatives in different UK cities and, in the course of its investment from Arts Impact Fund, will focus its efforts on opening a second hub in Manchester.
Throughout our due diligence, we were impressed to see an organisation that is tactical and proactive about arising opportunities and is able to realise their full potential in order to bolster its mission-driven work, whilst ultimately developing its financial resilience. We are excited to be in the position to observe how, thanks to its strong leadership and clear vision, MeWe can replicate its model to bring individual and systemic change in the arts sector, helping diversity thrive and enriching the breadth of artistic expression.
Image credit: A networking event at MeWe360's hub for creative entrepreneurs. Photo: Kriss Flow