Thursday 24 August 2023
An update on Bishopsgate Institute’s recovery plan
Following my 17 July update (see below), I am writing to let you know that I have taken some time to consider the proposal below with colleagues.
Our financial situation remains very difficult and we have made the decision to pause most of our events programme from September 2023. Sadly we could not avoid making 9 members of staff redundant and these colleagues left the organisation earlier this month.
We will continue to offer a range of yoga classes, archive tours and social dance events and these are now available to book. We are also marking ten years of social dance at the Institute this autumn with some special events scheduled for December (which seems like a long way off).
I’d like to thank all my colleagues at the Institute – past and present – and to our audiences for your understanding and support. I hope you’ll continue to consider hiring our spaces and telling people about us as we work towards a more sustainable future for the charity.
Monday 17 July 2023
Securing the Institute for another 130 years
How we are scaling back our public programme to secure our long term future
Last week, I stood in front of my staff team and told them that Bishopsgate Institute was not immune to the severe financial pressures that are affecting our colleagues in the arts, culture and heritage sector. I explained that we are being forced to make some tough decisions to ensure we survive as a charity, for both our current and future beneficiaries. London without Bishopsgate Institute is not something any of us can begin to contemplate, so we are implementing a recovery plan to address the level of losses we have been making in recent years.
A perfect storm of factors
Unlike many arts, culture and heritage organisations, we do not receive any external funding. Instead, we are funded through an endowment that generates income for the charity, much of it held in property, and through hiring out our spaces at 230 Bishopsgate. That income has been solid, reliable and consistent – until now. Unfortunately, a combination of factors including economic turbulence following the Brexit vote, the stop-start lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic, raging inflation, surging energy prices, and a change in the way people work (from home more than in an office) has hit the property market hard. We have also been faced with much higher running and maintenance costs for our historic building. The upshot is that the Institute’s costs have increased while income from the endowment and venue hire is not enough to sustain some of the work we do, mainly our public events and courses programme.
For many weeks, I have been working with senior colleagues and our Board to look at ways to cut costs to ensure the future of the Institute. Most of these costs, such as energy, maintenance and business rates are not something we can control. So, we had to turn our attention to the costs that we can control, the biggest of which is salaries.
Sadly, the Board of Trustees and I are having to consider the option of reducing the number of staff working at the Institute. I am exploring this proposal with the colleagues who would be impacted by these changes over the next three weeks. This is not an option any of us would choose, and it is with a heavy heart that I write that some of our colleagues may have to leave Bishopsgate Institute due to the financial pressure we are under.
What is being proposed
As a result of the level of annual savings that are needed, we are proposing to pause most of our public programming for the next few years at least. Unfortunately, our unique and much-loved curated events, our courses, archive launches and takeovers, are going to have to take a break to allow us time to rebuild. These events are an important part of what the Institute does and who we are, so we aim to get them back on track as soon as we have recovered our financial position to a sustainable level.
We are also proposing to scale back our digital campaigns and content and our outreach work with particular groups and communities, and we may no longer be able to offer access to the Reading Room.
What will not change is our commitment to our Special Collections & Archives, the collections we are privileged to hold, the service we provide to researchers of all stripes wanting to explore them, and the careful conservation and management of those collections. Our specialist team is sector-leading in making sure stories often ignored or sidelined by the mainstream are celebrated, documented and shared with no requirement for academic qualification, or membership, or payment. Anyone can enjoy our archives and is welcome to come in to explore them, and that will not change.
To get us back to a sustainable business model, our recovery plan will focus on growing our income through increased venue hire activities and making our endowment more flexible.
I’ve spent my 11 years at the Institute building and developing events, courses, archive launches, study days, walking tours, concerts, cabarets, theatre productions, building take-overs and festivals. It hits us all hard that our audiences, partners and contributors have flourished again in the past year or so and now we are having to contemplate pausing these wonderful activities for the foreseeable future. But this is not the end; if we can increase levels of income from our venue hire and endowment while reducing costs, and sustain that recovery, I am confident that we’ll be able to start talking about a programme again, including with potential collaborators, partners, audiences and supporters. What I can’t say is how quickly that might happen.
How you can support us
We are incredibly lucky to have such loyal and dedicated audiences who come back year after year to enjoy and share what the Institute has to offer and we thank all of you for your continued support.
In an ideal world, a grant or lump sum would solve our current problems. However, what we need is to get back to a break-even position we can sustain in the years ahead. To achieve this, we will need your ongoing support and the best way to provide this is to hire or tell people about our magnificent spaces for events, and to remain signed up to our newsletters, so we can keep you posted as we move into this recovery period and out the other side.
This is clearly a difficult time for all our colleagues at the Institute. If you are visiting the Institute building, I hope you can be mindful of this and considerate of our staff during this sensitive time.
Keeping in touch
From my initial conversations with our friends and partners, I know that some of you are keen to hear about our progress. I plan to blog on a more regular basis, so keep an eye on our social media channels for updates. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Alternatively, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you have.
Hopeful for the future
I want to thank all my brilliant and passionate colleagues at the Institute who have worked incredibly hard to help us recover following the pandemic. As so many other organisations have found, a lot of challenging external economic factors have come along together just as we were in recovery after the pandemic, and I am incredibly sad that we find ourselves in this situation.
However, we are a strong, innovative and optimistic group of people and I’m sure we’ll both need and be able to harness that strength to come through this difficult period. As Chief Executive, I am up for the challenge of creating a plan of action that will safeguard this very special place.
Chief Executive & Artistic Director