Established in 1992, Salford-based Walk the Plank is one of Britain’s foremost outdoor arts organisations, a registered charity and one of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations. It is known for its site responsive events, both large and small, in a variety of locations as well as firework displays and community processions that bring diverse groups of people together as spectators, participants or co-creators of its work.
Over the past 25 years, Walk the Plank has won national and international acclaim, responding to bids and creative commissions from across the UK, Europe and beyond for both outdoor arts productions and pyrotechnics, the latter through its commercial subsidiary – Walk the Plank Fireworks. However, with different administrative and production centres and a team often scattered across several locations, the organisation was not making the most of its physical and human assets.
Walk the Plank will use a £170,000 loan from Arts Impact Fund towards the development cost of Cobden Works - a new centre for excellence in outdoor arts in Salford, the only dedicated such space in the North West of England. The site, due to be completed in summer 2017, will feature production workshops, a learning space and an outdoor yard for making and training, and will breathe creative life into an industrial part of the city.
The greater part of the £1.53 million capital project is lead-financed through an Arts Council England grant and secured loan from a mainstream lender. The charity is currently raising £25k from supporters through a crowd-funding campaign with the Arts Impact Fund providing the essential final piece of funding. Walk the Plank approached us early on for a bridge loan towards possible cashflow shortage. Establishing a timely relationship meant the organisation had flexibility to refine its investment need as the project developed and was better able to respond to changing circumstances.
As part of the investment due diligence, the Arts Impact Fund met with Walk the Plank’s senior management to review the capital project management and to discuss how Cobden Works will affect the charity’s operating context and fundraising needs. The team was impressed with the high standard of the organisation’s financial planning and its past record of bringing in highly qualified staff to deliver large-scale projects within a fixed budget.
From a financial point of view, Cobden Works will generate cost savings by consolidating Walk the Plank’s various premises into a single hub. It would also create new income streams from the hire of facilities, making better use of the organisation’s excess capacity and adding to its overall financial resilience. More importantly, this will allow Walk the Plank to continue to grow artistically by giving it a much needed creative home. Attached to the new site is also an ambitious learning and community engagement programme, for which the charity hopes to raise additional funds from public and philanthropic sources.
From a social impact perspective, Walk the Plank is a vivid example of the symbiosis between artistic and social mission. The company places participation at the heart of its work, celebrating the diverse communities it collaborates with and contributing to enhanced social inclusion and civic pride among participants and audiences alike. In addition, learning and professional development are already embedded in many of the organisation’s projects through placements, mentoring opportunities and Walk the Plank’s very own training-through-production schools that give budding artists the opportunity to gain not only specialist knowledge and skills but also practical experience of working on outdoor arts projects and make professional contacts.
Arts Impact Fund’s investment will enable the charity to grow this activity even further as well as launch several new in-house learning programmes. At Cobden Works, Walk the Plank will offer short courses and masterclasses, R&D Labs for artists to experiment and develop new work, and special projects for local communities to explore the organisation’s archive of past work. Over the course of investment, it will also continue to develop an integrated framework for impact measurement that encompasses activities falling under different departments within the organisation, which Walk the Plank has historically struggled to capture fully.
We are excited to use social investment to support an established arts organisation through a period of transformation and look forward to seeing the positive change Walk the Plank’s new home will bring to the surrounding area, local communities and the wider outdoor arts industry.
To support Walk the Plank and help it raise the final £25,000 it needs to realise its full vision for Cobden Works, donate through their crowdfunding campaign here. The campaign closes on Friday August 4, 2017.
Image credit: Manchester Day Parade 2017.