Youth Music Theatre: UK (YMT:UK) began as a meeting and turned into a crusade, says Chris Grady. Following a meeting in October 2003, potential trustees emerged for a new organisation with young people at the heart of its mission. By December, a limited company had been formed, the name decided upon (after consulting with young people, parents and practitioners) and even a couple of small projects had been run with volunteer support. The Charity Commissioners turned around the application for registration in record time and by February 2004 the charity was ready to make its first funding applications.
Starting a new charity is never easy. Attracting arts funding is never easy. Careful and simple yet effective approaches were made to a number of Trusts to ?kick-start? the charity. Everything that could be done for free was done for free. Every favour that could be asked was asked: even now, a year later, almost everything in the charity?s offices has been donated.
Some core values were established: the charity should be as accessible as possible, it would focus on new work to excite participants, it would plan towards a regional structure to encourage access, and it would maintain the highest operational standards ? particularly in the area of pastoral care and child protection.
The charity was soon able to employ two staff paid for from individual donations. The trustees and staff met very frequently. Every decision, idea, success, and problem was shared by this small team. Numerous procedures had to be put in place before the first full programme could start and, in rapid succession, the charity prepared and implemented a Child Protection Policy (registered with the Criminal Records Bureau), a Video and Photographic Policy, its first Business Plan, an Equal Opportunities Policy, Data Protection Policy, Guidelines for Young People, and staff monitoring and evaluation procedures. The staff and associates had a proven track record of delivering projects in other organisations, so the board was able to feel confident that, given basic core funding support, the staff could make it work.
One year on, YMT:UK has delivered 21 projects in all corners of the UK (and Japan). It has inspired 725 young people and created four new musicals ? each ready, with further funding and rehearsal, to perform in venues around the UK. It has a growing open-access programme and outreach work planned for the future. It has attracted sufficient funding to survive a first year with minimum public funding. In the first six months of the current financial year alone it turned over £175,000 and showed a small surplus. The charity has risen to the challenge of ensuring diversity and accessibility to the organisation?s programmes. Already it is providing places on its courses for young people from local authority youth services and refugee organisations. It has also begun the process of delivering in the regions by focusing on projects in East Anglia and Northern Ireland.
Three factors have been critical in getting the organisation of the ground so successfully:
- A highly involved and purposeful board of trustees meet monthly and draw on every ounce of support they can
- General Manager, Jon Bromwich, and his paid and voluntary team were experienced enough to ?hit the ground running?
- A strong belief in the organisation from key supporters within the industry.
Obviously many challenges lie ahead. The central one, as always, is funding. In this respect, the charity is working closely with the Charities Aid Foundation to develop its open-access programmes as a service provider to various public agencies, with full-cost recovery as a critical target in coming years. But to deliver the highest quality music theatre projects is inevitably expensive. Sustained funding streams (at least of the three-year variety) become increasingly important to an arts charity?s chances of survival.
The lessons are that a true passion for the project and the ability to communicate that passion are essential. But so is support. It is inevitable that at first this will come from individuals and known grant-giving trusts rather than public bodies. Now the challenge to YMT:UK is to widen the support and the funding sources. Of course, the risk remains that until there is longer term public funding every year we will have to sell the same message and the same dreams. This is tiring for trustees and employees alike and bemusing to those used to working in the ?real world? of investment and long-term funding strategy.
Chris Grady is Head of Licensing at Cameron Mackintosh Ltd and a Trustee of YMT:UK w: http://www.youth-music-theatre.org.uk