General Manager, East London Dance
An external business mentor helped East London Dance develop financial tools and make a move on opportunities for growth, says General Manager, Ben Cooper-Melchiors.
What does East London Dance do?
We’re an arts organisation and charity based in Stratford, east London. We produce inspirational dance events in interesting and unexpected spaces, develop the entrepreneurial and creative skills of artists and deliver participation work in the community. That could be with young people who are experiencing dance for the first time, or working with older people to help them improve their health and wellbeing. The idea is to give creative opportunities to people who are least likely to receive them.
How did you get in touch with your business mentor?
Through an organisation called Business in the Community, which helps businesses improve their corporate social responsibility. Last summer, they asked us if we would be interested in joining a free Business in the Community/Deutsche Bank pilot called ArtsForward, which was offering business support for arts and cultural organisations.
Why did you decide to get involved?
We get calls from various organisations — schools, local authorities and major commercial retailers, for example — who ask us to provide bespoke performance and participation programmes for them. We have the assets, network and abilities to deliver these and so were able to develop a profitable service called Tailor Made Dance. What we didn’t have was the time to figure out how we could grow it and increase its income so it could make a greater impact on our organisation’s sustainability.
What did partnering with Business in the Community involve?
We were paired with a mentor from Deutsche Bank who was able to unpick the challenges we were facing with Tailor Made Dance and highlight the next steps we needed to take to improve it. Working with a business mentor was interesting. It took some time for them to digest what we do, the nature of how we work and our opportunities for growth; but, ultimately, they were able to help us see what we needed to do to overcome our current barriers for growth and create the capacity to take on more work.
You’re an arts company — Deutsche Bank isn’t. Was that ever an issue?
No. In fact, it was a real asset because it meant we had to rigorously discuss our work so that an outsider could get a perspective on what we do. It did mean we had to meet in the middle to find common language. You’re putting together something that’s abstract and creative with something that’s concrete, analytical and commercial, after all. But creativity functions when you bring together structure and chaos. So working with a company outside of the arts world was a nice balance.
What has been the result?
It’s allowed us to scale up work we were already doing. We’ve now developed an excellent sales analysis tool; and we’ve looked at every project we’ve ever delivered, so we have a clear awareness of what products/services we should be focussing on. Plus we’re relaunching our services into three different markets. I wouldn’t have been able to efficiently complete that level of planning without this partnership. I think the original mentorship was supposed to last for six months to a year. We’ll be reaching that year end soon — and we want to keep going.