Accumulate creative workshops are meaningful activities that build confidence, skills and resilience for people affected by homelessness, giving them purpose and focus and steering them away from boredom and the risk of entering crime, substance abuse or antisocial behaviour.
When I first set up Accumulate I was lucky enough to be awarded an RSA Catalyst Seed Award which helped the charity to pilot its activities, test its approach and deliver its first series of creative workshops in a hostel in North London. Five years on and Accumulate has grown to work with seven hostels across London, fundraise for scholarships so our participants can progress their creative education at Ravensbourne University London and collaborate with the major museums and institutions across London, such as: Tate Modern, The Barbican, Somerset House, BBC, The Guardian, Victoria and Albert Museum.
All of this is delivered on a very tight financial shoestring, with an eye always on the bottom line and a constant cycle of bid writing and reaching out for donations. The tight finances mean that everything is considered and we need to be super imaginative and resourceful as to how we can deliver everything we want to do without compromising on our quality, professionalism and, most importantly, the experience of the participants and the impact we make.
As part of our resourcing, we sell the artwork that the Accumulate participants create on our workshops, these are sold online and also at our exhibitions. The income from the art sales are split between the Accumulate participants, so they get to earn money from their creativity, and Accumulate itself, so that it has a third strand of income to fund its creative workshops.
So far, so good, and it became evident that if we stepped up the sales activity by having a business development manager, we would be able to increase our commercial income, become more resilient and independent and reduce any dependence on grants to deliver our services. This spurred me on to apply (and thankfully win!) an RSA Catalyst Scaling Grant for Accumulate to build and expand its capacity across a number of areas including recruiting a part time freelance Business Development Manager for one day a week over six months.
The addition of the RSA-funded Business Development Manager helped Accumulate to become far more focused and active in engaging with external organisations, businesses and opportunities. There was a lot of idea generation too which helped Accumulate explore different ways to realise and achieve its financial ambitions. Most critically, there was a lot of learning.
The learning gained can be summed up into these four messages:
- Business development is a long game - it can’t be done “lightweight” and needs time, determination and persistence. Quick wins are rare and so investment needs to be made to ensure that those initial meetings and emails deliver results, which can take far longer than originally anticipated.
- Doors open - where you least expect them to. We reached out to lots of corporates with the idea that they would purchase the Accumulate artwork for their office walls. This didn’t always deliver the results we hoped for, however, one of the corporates suggested we applied to the charitable foundation that they operated. We did this and it was a far easier process than the mainstream grants that exist. We were successful and secured £10k (which was the amount of the RSA Scaling grant and so I guess, one could say, we doubled our money!) and this amount funded a series of Accumulate creative workshops and also a scholarship for one Accumulate participant to study on the Access to HE course at Ravensbourne University London.
- One idea can quickly turn into another - which can be just as good - One of the conversations I had when seeking out a BDM was with a RSA fellow who read about Accumulate in the RSA magazine. We met up and discussed one of the business aims of Accumulate which was to create “products” (mugs, t.shirts, keyrings etc) that had Accumulate artwork as their decoration. I was told by the RSA fellow (who ran a product design business) that this may not be as financially beneficial as anticipated and we changed our approach on the basis of this advice. At the next Accumulate exhibition, we then decided to create an Accumulate pop-up shop. At this shop we sold the artwork produced by the Accumulate participants and also products made by other social enterprises. In this way we had a more interesting offer for the exhibition audience and also, supported organisations who do great things, reduced our financial risks and diversified and increased our income strands.
- Network, network, network - a random conversation that was had whilst waiting to get into a trade show turned into an introduction to a well known fashion business. This firm is now looking to partner with Accumulate and support our work, so it shows that a bit of networking can definitely pay off and produce results.
None of this understanding would have happened without the RSA Scaling grant - it has put Accumulate into a stronger financial position, opened and created new opportunities, partnerships and collaborations and enabled us to move forward and develop our next project - opening up the first ever Radio Station for the Homeless. Thank you!
You can find out more about the RSA's different forms of funding and see which is right for your project here.