Each year we ask venues from within the house network to take part in a survey to help us frame the work that we do for the benefit of the wider network. house only exists to help venues across the south east and east of England develop their programmes and audiences for contemporary theatre and your input from your personal experiences is vital in helping us craft our offer.
Fortunately, venues from the network have been incredibly responsive to our surveys since we started running them in 2021 and it has meant that we can better understand your venue and requirements whether that is for training or theatre programming. The 2023 survey will be sent out to all venues a little later this month but before that is sent out we look back at what actions house has been able to take following last year's survey.
The 2022 survey showed that venues were booking fewer theatre shows in their programme then they had before the pandemic and with their more limited programming they wanted work which addressed current topics and would be more relevant to their audience make-up, reflecting diversity and inclusivity. This has been a vital component when compiling our offer for each season as well as working closely with the artist to provide all the assets and resources that venues need to best sell the work to their audiences.
In this year's survey we will be asking our venues whether they have capacity to book outdoor arts in summer 2024, whether that be as part of a festival programme or as a standalone event as well as finding out more about gaps in venue programming which we could help fill and how far ahead you are now programming your events.
Last year's survey showed that only 37% of organisations had an audience development plan, lower than 2021, and clearly there was a real opportunity for house to support venues in rebuilding audiences and attracting new audiences. We reached out to venues through our regional cluster meetings to find a small cohort of venues keen to work on an audience development pilot project alongside house.
From September 2022 to May 2023, we supported 12 organisations to take steps to reach out to new audiences through a series of monthly training sessions with audience development specialists and one-to-one project discussions. The aim was to take away the daunting feeling of having to create an entire, multi-year plan with running a short-term project to grow specific audiences to upcoming events whilst collecting the audience data and reports in which to help them decide on a longer term plan. We learnt a lot from running this project with a small group of venues and have been able to help The Ropetackle in Shoreham reach family audiences in their neighbouring community of Lancing, the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds set up a hugely beneficial youth advisory group amongst other vital venue learnings.
Training & Events
The survey last year suggested that we needed to revise our training models to prioritise key areas of need, consult further with the network for operating training to best support their needs.
We wanted to offer a deeper dive into sustainability in our venues so created a sustainability-in-action focussed network day which we ran at Jackson's Lane in November.
In addition, we have expanded our training programme to offer a monthly training event either online or in-person to include topics such as sustainability, anti-racism statements, managing online backlash and access & inclusion. The sessions chosen have aligned with topics indicated by venues or have been organised in conjunction with shows touring with house so venues on the tour have the necessary knowledge to support the marketing or community outreach.
How we work with venues
We have repeatedly heard how busy venue professionals are currently and finding the time to attend training, especially those running in-person, are very limited. However, we are having to balance how beneficial it is to leave your desk and meet fellow venue professionals to share knowledge and ideas in person. That has been at the front of our minds when we have been looking at our engagement with venues and have been finding ways to come to you in-person.
Following on from last year's Cluster meetings, we ran a series of regional venue meet-ups in the spring to connect programmers and marketeers on a local level. They are great at finding the common ground between venues and for them to think about how they could collaborate more to better engage with local audiences. The Network Day which invites every organisation to a day of talks and discussions takes place once a year and is as much about introducing new ideas and ways of working to venues as it is with catching up with giving people the opportunity to catch-up with venue contacts across the network.
Around our tours we arrange online regular catch-ups with the venue teams to assist and share ideas on how to grow audience numbers. We have also found that the Afternoon Tea zoom sessions that were popular and incredibly useful during the pandemic proved more difficult to attend with venues being up to full capacity. We have therefore started to replace this with recorded videos added to our YouTube channel covering topics around Sustainability Spotlights and chats with artists. Funnily enough our first video was a discussion about the results from last year's annual survey (which you can view at the top of this page!)
How do I take part in the 2023 survey
The survey will be sent to the venue leaders or programmers at each organisation towards the end of June and the results will be presented back to the network so you can see how your organisation responses compare to the thoughts of the wider network.