The Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall is finding the match funding for a £1.5m Arts Council capital grant from its trading surpluses.

Mock-up of refurbished TRCH

Profits generated by Nottingham’s council-owned Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall (TRCH) are to be used as match funding for a £3.3m capital project that has been awarded £1.5m from Arts Council England (ACE).

It is thought to be the first time that a council-run regional arts venue has been able to contribute such a sum from its own trading surpluses to an ACE-funded capital project.

Nottingham City Council will be making the £1.8m contribution to the refurbishment project, but the money will come directly from surpluses at the venue, which operates entirely without subsidy. Rather than absorb TRCH’s forecast £500k a year surplus for the next three years into its general budgets, the Council will allow the money to be used as match funding to complete the project.

The capital project aims to improve the city-centre venue’s facilities and under-used spaces in order to increase use of the buildings and generate additional income that will “secure sustainability for the future”. TRCH’s Managing Director Robert Sanderson said: “The Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall is already a lively, enjoyable space but we want to extend that throughout the day… to reach out to local businesses and community groups too.”

A history of support

TRCH has achieved a major financial turn-around since 2008/9, when it relied on a £1m subsidy from the local authority.

The Council’s new investment has come about following a history of support for the venue’s development. Through a deal struck in 2013, TRCH is permitted to keep half of all the cash it generates each year above and beyond its agreed annual income budget.

The surpluses generated by the venue over the past four years have enabled it to fund the first ever lift in Theatre Royal and install two lifts and 2,500 new seats in the Concert Hall.

Councillor Graham Chapman, Deputy Leader of Nottingham City Council, told AP: “We now offer a 50/50 deal on surpluses to all our major income generating services. It is astonishing the level of initiative that this has triggered among staff.

“Instead of having to subsidise this major cultural venue, as most Councils would, we get a significant contribution to our general funds and they are in a position to re-invest in their own organisation. It is a huge financial motivator, and also helps us to retain exceptional leaders like Robert Sanderson.”

He continued: “The new capital investment in TRCH works well for us all. When the cash flow from the increased trading comes in two or three years from now, the theatre will benefit but the Council will too.”

Nottingham City Council has been fighting to sustain its cultural commitments in the city despite cuts amounting to around £170m so far, and a further £40m over the next three years.

“Finding new ways to make the budget go further is important”, said Chapman. “For example, at Nottingham Playhouse we own the building. By changing the lease arrangements we have been able to cut the rent in exchange for the Playhouse taking on the maintenance obligations. It has worked well for both parties, and is good example of what we can do when the right people are in place and work collaboratively to find solutions.”

Work at TRCH will be completed in phases over the next 18 months, starting summer 2016, and both venues will remain open throughout.

Liz Hill