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Arts & Culture Impact Fund investment
The socially-driven music enterprise used a loan to purchase a building which will serve as a community music venue and skills hub.
Future Yard CIC is a social enterprise established in 2019 to use music as a force for good in Birkenhead and the wider Wirral area, with the ambition to reimagine the role of a community music venue. Alongside a busy programme showcasing new exciting music talent, Future Yard will host an artist development hub and free skills training programmes to enable young people to pursue careers in the industry.
The team behind Future Yard, a group of local music industry professionals with years of experience in the area, first tested their ideas and the local appetite for a music venue through a two-day music festival in August 2019. The enthusiastic response of the local and regional audiences cemented the team’s plan to set up a permanent home for Future Yard. In early 2020, the team acquired a lease for a three-floor former nightclub in Birkenhead and began work to transform it into a music venue and music skills hub.
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic prevented the team from fully launching the venue in summer 2020 as planned. Alongside a limited number of socially-distanced and streamed shows, the team used this time to further develop their plans for the educational and artist development strands of their work. The first cycle of Future Yard’s Sound Check programme launched in September 2020, working with local young people to develop their practical music industry skills through a 12-week programme of training sessions and mentoring.
Shortly after Future Yard moved into its rented building, an opportunity presented itself for the organisation to purchase the property as the landlord decided to put it on the market. Unable to access a traditional mortgage due to deposit requirements and the young age of the enterprise, Future Yard approached the Arts & Culture Impact Fund (ACIF) for a secured loan towards the purchase.
Although the chance to purchase its own building arose earlier in the life of the enterprise than expected, and during a challenging time due to the pandemic, the Future Yard team saw it as a unique opportunity to secure the venue’s future. Venue ownership is key to sustainability in the music industry where finding, adapting and keeping venues can be particularly precarious because of rising rents and properties being sold for commercial development. As an owner of their building Future Yard will considerably strengthen their asset base and will be encouraged to continue investing in further capital works to provide high quality facilities for their service users.
The investment due diligence process focused on all three work strands of the new enterprise – trading as a music venue, delivering artist development programmes through a membership model, and providing free skills training to vulnerable young people. A socially-driven music venue model which complements its trading income with ongoing grant funding is relatively new in the grassroots music sector, and the fund team was keen to ensure that the balance of activities and funding streams can provide a sustainable model for the enterprise in the long term.
While short-term trading forecasts needed to account for possible closures and social distancing requirements during the pandemic, Future Yard’s fundraising performance as a startup enterprise has been very impressive – it is clear that local authorities and funders have recognised the need for a music hub like Future Yard in Birkenhead and the value it will bring to the community. The team are keen to measure and evaluate the social impact of their work and will work with ACIF to formalise their approach as part of the investment.
The risk involved in launching a music venue during such an unprecedented time was balanced with the Future Yard’s team’s wealth of experience and connections in the industry, an unwavering drive to make the venue a success and ability to plan strategically. This considerably increased the ACIF team’s confidence in the success of the venture.
Right from the early conversations with Future Yard, the ACIF team has been very excited about its potential to deliver positive social outcomes. Birkenhead is a town with high levels of deprivation and limited opportunities for young people. By working with referral partners (such as the local job centre, mental health charity and social housing association), Future Yard wants to reach vulnerable young people with limited access to opportunities, and use its free training programmes and networks to improve the participants’ practical knowledge, confidence and ultimately chances of finding quality employment in the music industry (including Future Yard’s own venue). A partnership with a local mental health charity Open Door Centre will offer additional mental health support for participants.
The artist development programme will support emerging artists to professionalise and monetise their careers. Artists will be actively supported through mentorship, access to space, events and workshops and, importantly, will be able to build a supportive and collaborative community in the hub. This aspect in particular makes the model unique, with no similar music sector hubs to be found in the region, and artists often lacking practical support to turn their passion for music into a career.
Finally, the placemaking value of Future Yard as a community space in a town that has not had a music venue in a decade should not be underestimated. Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the team’s ambition to galvanise positive change beyond the confines of the venue is reflected in their strapline ‘The Future is Birkenhead’, proudly painted on the venue’s now very own walls.
Images 3, 6: © Robin Clewley. All other images: © Future Yard.