Last month we looked at crowd funding and personal investment. Let’s now delve into the more official route. There are the organisations/schemes specially designed to fund the arts and creative industries, and there are the organisations/schemes designed to support small business start-ups, whatever the industry.
Let’s start with the small business start-up funds. As Inzar Haq of Insight Consultancy, who specialises in small business funding, warns “Government funding for business has never been easy to access. Even if you were able to navigate through all the different methods and bodies contracted to deliver the money, the application forms are disproportionately onerous for relatively small amounts of cash.” And he should know – one of his roles at the consultancy is to match small businesses with funding opportunities, an ever changing landscape as Governments make funding cuts and regularly shift money from one budget to another. But there is good news. Inzar continues:
“A number of new schemes have been launched and a huge ‘simplification’ process has meant that more and more business are taking advantage for cash that is available to them, for anything from creating a robust marketing strategy to purchasing capital equipment.”
“It is worth mentioning that in any intervention, there will be a requirement for you to contribute a small proportion of the overall cost (this could be anything from 30% – 50%).” A worthwhile investment if you want to spend what little you have getting an idea or process of development off the ground.
Inzar offers the following advice: “Identify geographically what is available to you – identify your Local Enterprise Partnership LEP and browse their website to see what is out there for you. If you are based in Leicester it’s www.llepbizgateway.co.uk. The key element in any application is to remember the government is looking for an increase in Gross Value Added. This is measured in a number of different ways, but is primarily focused around an increase in profitability, turnover and employment. Therefore, be optimistic in your growth forecast and demonstrate you have the ability, desire and focus to really grow your business.”
The creative industries also have a raft of organisations and schemes devoted to funding. Do your research into what pots are available, as filmmaker Rhys Daviesdoes when embarking on a project. If you’re in the filming industry, he has some helpful pointers: “In the film industry the soft money – governmental – comes from Creative England and the BFI. The former runs yearly short film funds, feature funds and ad hoc development funds. The latter is for more established film makers. There are also several short film funds run by separate organisation such as Quad Derby’s Shine A Light. Creative Leicestershire’s monthly email is a great resource for such opportunities.” Thanks for the plug Rhys but that’s one of the very reasons organisations like Creative Leicestershire exist – as a resource to help creative businesses identify opportunities. It’s a no brainer to use it.
Once you’ve identified a funding source, don’t be afraid of engaging with them as part of the application process. Founder of dance company Turned On Its Head, Liz Clark couldn’t agree more. “We’ve only been applying to the Arts Council for the past three years but I’m learning more each time we apply, mostly through making errors and by having conversations with them.
There was a time when I was a little afraid of speaking to funders but I’ve found the best way to find out how they tick is to speak to them.
They’re there to help so ask lots of questions.” It may feel daunting contacting the decision makers but think about it – they don’t want to wade through funding applications which don’t meet their criteria. Their job is find a successful fit. So help them to help you.
You may also find that funding is available from a variety of organisations whose remit it is to support and encourage artistic work in the community. As Performance poet Lydia Towsey shares: “Artistic work I undertake with vulnerable audiences – as both a freelance artist, volunteer/activist and a part-time NHS worker – is often commissioned by government funded organisations, from local bodies like Writing East Midlands, festivals and local authority council wards to the national, such as NHS services and Arts Council England.”
At a time of funding cuts, we need to be engaging with funding organisations wherever we can, allowing them to champion the work which reminds everyone why they are there in the first place. As Lydia continues: “If funding to such bodies was to decline and a large number of artistic programmes ceased to be funded, the work itself would cease as it would be beyond the means of its target audience. Such an economic barrier to learning and development would affect the most vulnerable and in need. As a social and cultural activist, living in politically austere, culturally threatened and troubling times, for me it’s part of my artistic role and practice to campaign against further cuts and to be politically engaged in the work I present.” It’s an important point. Without the work they fund, such funding schemes will grind to a halt. Meaning artistic work in the community grinds to a halt. And no-one wants to see that happen.