Networking: Nice to Do or Need to Do?

Chris Kirkwood, Chief Executive of Lincoln Drill Hall, on the value of being part of the Lincolnshire One Venues Network. Find out more about the network here.

I have been working in the arts sector in the East Midlands for just over 10 years now.  I arrived in Lincolnshire in 2004 to take up a post with Lincolnshire County Council.  Rather quickly I became embroiled in a number of networking groups and meetings that took place across the county, many of which my role had responsibility for convening.  There was the Lincolnshire Arts Forum, Lincolnshire Arts Partnership (a subtly different group), Lincolnshire Education Arts Forum, the Local Authority Arts Officers group and a Venue Managers Network to name just a few.

Each claimed to have some responsibility for joining up the arts provision across Lincolnshire.  Some were more successful than others, some were essentially pseudo therapy sessions, but whether they were all truly strategically useful is open to debate.  Having said that, the Lincolnshire Arts Partnership did lead to the formation of a Youth Arts Network across the county, which for a while showed real joined up delivery among arts services.

Fast forward 6 years and I am back working in Lincolnshire and quickly I am part of a new network, Lincolnshire One Venues or LOV.  This group developed out of a Thrive project and immediately felt like a more robust group with a clearly defined purpose and most importantly, one that was actually working on cross county developments.

Lincolnshire One Venues is made up of 8 performing and 2 visual arts centres with a geographical spread from Louth and Gainsborough to Stamford and Spalding in our membership.  Most importantly it is more than simply a meeting once a month to vent individual frustrations.  This network has achieved things.

Five venues who individually received RFO money from Arts Council England pooled resources and successfully applied as one county wide consortium for funding under the National Portfolio Funding cycle.  We are now working together on joint programming and commissioning initiatives as well as sharing skills and knowledge across teams at our venues, benchmarking management, artistic and administrative functions.  Importantly though, each venue maintains its own distinct identity in its community.

This grouping also committed to supporting the development of all venues in LOV.  We put forward some funding to act as a match for a bid made to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation which now sees a Young People’s Development project being delivered across all ten venues, including programming and producing groups at most venues of young people aged 12-25.

We have commissioned new work to be presented across venues.  This is a huge step for the arts in a county where there is no producing theatre, no resident orchestras or large dance companies, a county that predominantly relies on others to make work and bring it to us.  Our most recent commission was with Pilot Theatre, and later this year four venues will work with an emerging Lincoln Company Vagabonds Hat. Members of the group have also commissioned Gatecrash from Zest Theatre which is now embarking on a national tour.  Each of these commissions links in some way to developments and opportunities for young people.

LOV has successfully received £30,000 from the Creative Employment Programme to deliver 13 apprenticeships and internships across the network and have carried out a significant piece of audience research as one of the first clusters working with The Audience Agency.

Perhaps the most important outcome of LOV is the way that it has generated true collaboration for arts provision in the county.  Our county is huge.  It is 80 miles from Louth in the north to Stamford in the south.  Working alone anywhere can feel isolating and frustrating.  Members have commented that one of the best outcomes of LOV existing is that they don’t feel alone, that there is support and positives to be gained from learning from the experience of others in helping us to do our jobs.  There has also been interest in our working model from other parts of the country, keen to try and develop their own collaborative ways of working.

LOV is constantly looking to develop, but has been a really positive step in the evolution of arts provision for our county.  To quote one of the many puns that is the by-product of an acronym such as ours, All You Need Is LOV!

Chris Kirkwood, Chief Executive, Lincoln Drill Hall