Our new theatre – complete with audio visual equipment and retractable seating – was completed in the summer of 2020, following a successful £34,000 crowdfunding campaign. However, due to Covid, we were unable to use it much as a performance venue, so instead we turned it into a Covid test centre for students when they returned to school! Last summer, we were finally able to use the theatre for leavers’ events, albeit with limited numbers, socially distanced, and with everyone wearing masks.
As well as being a great asset, one of the purposes of the theatre is to serve as a venue for local community arts and theatre groups to hire, thus generating income for the school. It was encouraging to see interest pick up at the beginning of term and we are now getting numerous enquiries from dance schools, drama groups, choirs and amateur dramatic groups. A number of organisations have already indicated they are interested in coming back for their annual events.
While this is really exciting, I quickly discovered that showing people around, facilitating enquiries and theatre hire were taking up a lot of my time, as each organisation has different requirements and everything has to fit around school activities. So we are now advertising for a theatre manager to support us in the first year with promoting and establishing the theatre. I am confident that additional income raised from bookings will cover this individual’s salary and hopefully generate additional income.
Depending on the hirer’s requirements, we charge from £1,000 to £2,000 for a weekend of performance use, which includes the theatre and related changing rooms, main hall for a bar area and theatre technicians to operate the technical equipment. We’ve also restarted promoting our general lettings. We revamped our ‘facilities for hire’ webpage, with photos of the rooms for hire, and have set up a dedicated email for lettings enquiries. We hire out rooms from as little as £10 per hour, up to £35 per hour.
Following the success of the crowdfunding campaign for the theatre fit-out, we realised not only that parents and supporters were willing to donate, but also that an online platform was the way to go. Previously, our PTA had kindly administered a bank account for parental donations, sending paper forms out to the parents of new Year 7s and asking them to complete the direct debit instruction to give monthly to the school. But this method had become outdated and the PTA no longer had time to manage the account. Hence we decided to bring the account under the main school umbrella and relaunch it as the ACHIEVE fund, mirroring our school vision and values.
We researched online platforms and decided on the CAF (Charities Aid Foundation) as it offered the most suitable fee structure and would be able to claim Gift Aid on our behalf. We also set up a new page on our website and publicised the fund on school communication channels.
During half-term, we hosted the Maidenhead Dance Festival. This was a learning curve for myself and the site team, especially as we had, as usual, scheduled in building work during the holidays! We managed to juggle things around and all went well. It was wonderful to see the theatre full of dance schools pupils and their families enjoying our new venue.
Our revamp of the lettings webpage has led to renewed interest and quite a few enquires. It is lovely to have regular hirers who use the school for exercise classes and children’s activities. We get to know them well, building relationships and making sure they have everything they need. We also promote their activities in our newsletter so it is a win/win. Once a regular hirer is established, there is very little to do apart from watch the regular stream of income coming in.
With more lettings, there is more chance of clashes and we’ve had a few last-minute relocations and near misses, which our patient site team have resolved! This has brought home the importance of making sure every booking is on the booking system.
The balance on our ACHIEVE fund now totals more than £1,500, after many parents generously set up direct debits in the first couple of months. The donations will go towards projects that enhance the school experience for students. A bike shelter (right), grand piano and sports equipment have already been purchased.
Our PTA ran a very successful ‘School Dayz’ quiz night (above right). Quiz goers benefitted from excellent food from a giant pan catering company (above left) and a well-stocked bar. The night raised £1,300.
We also hired the theatre to a drama school for their performance of High School Musical (above far left). There were 130 children involved, so they took over quite a bit of the school. This was the first time the theatre lighting and sound had been used for a proper show and there were a few issues with the house curtains, plus an unknown alarm going off (which necessitated me rushing in to the rescue) but nothing spoilt the show. Obviously, there are going to be a few teething issues but we put things right and as they say… the show must go on!