house profile series (3/4) : venue fundraising and development

angela sykes

Angela Sykes
Role: Director
Organisation: Diss Corn Hall

Angela Sykes is the Director at Diss Corn Hall, and leads on all aspects of venue operation, including fundraising and development. She shares with us about the Corn Hall’s most recent development project; the restoration and transformation of their building.

  • Can you tell us about your regeneration plans, and the importance of fundraising for this project?

The Corn Hall is one of the lead partners (along with Diss Town Council and Diss Museum) in an ambitious regeneration project centred on the historic heart of Diss. The £3 million project was successful in receiving £1.65 million funding from the HLF in September 2014 (more details about the project here). We were thrilled of course however to bring the project to fruition we then had the challenge of raising the remaining £1.35 million. As with many projects costs have increased somewhat, so the fundraising continues!

The Corn Hall had serious problems – it was cold, damp and, with no foyer very difficult operationally. When the £2 million refurbishment and new build is complete, we will at last have a proper foyer, a larger integral box office and gallery (this used to be in a separate building), a new bar and cafe.  We’ll also have an office on site for the first time, a lift to the upstairs spaces and a learning zone with exhibition space.

The Main Hall itself will be restored and the addition of underfloor heating, a new travelling retractable seating unit and improved acoustics will all provide an even more flexible space with a hugely improved audience experience.

  • How do you approach fundraising and development at your venue?

One of the Corn Hall trustees took on the mammoth task of making the funding applications and dealing with funders and has done a magnificent job.  The Corn Hall management team has given back up by feeding through potential funding leads and feedback on application content.

Many sources of funding have strings attached with can have a programming and an operational impact. It is important then that before applying for funding, the requirements are fully understood and that the organisation is committed to delivering them if they’re successful.

  • What has the response been from your local community on this project, and the work that you do as a whole?

The positive response to the project by the local community has been incredible. The funds raised from the community were in excess of £125,000 making them the largest funder after the HLF and local government bodies.

While work has been progressing and the building itself has been closed, we continued to run an ‘On Tour’ programme in village halls and venues in and around the town. This has enabled us to keep in touch with our existing audience, to develop new audience members and to reach out to other community groups.

Feedback on our social media channels to progress pictures has been enthusiastic, and the local media has been really supportive too with regular pictorial updates in the press.

  • Finally, what obstacles do you come across in your area of work, and how to you overcome these challenges?

To succeed, a project of this size needs people to really engage with it. When they do some may have strong views about the way things will evolve and how they should be done. It’s crucial to accept that occasional differences of opinion are only because people care. Apathy would be far worse.

The challenge for me right now as venue Director in charge of operations and programming is not having a definite ‘go live’ date for our relaunch. Currently we’re planning for the end of March but I’m unlikely to have a rock solid date until the beginning of December, an impossibly short lead time to arrange a date with Ed Sheeran, the local boy made good. Incredibly, he was bottom of the bill when the Corn Hall first opened in February 2010!

We’re a largely volunteer led organisation, so along with managing the high expectations of our audience on the programming front, my team and I are recruiting new volunteers for our increased events and making plans to train our box office volunteers on our new ticketing system and website.

It’s all very exciting!