Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft: Finance

Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft is using a Hallmark grant to investigate new business models to put it on a sustainable footing for the future.

New director Steph Fuller, who has expertise in audience development and public sector project partnerships, says the aim is to explore a range of ways to generate income and establish a model with built-in resilience.

“We are looking at developing brand new activity and, potentially, using some of the Hallmarks funding to pilot a few ideas in an action research model. For example, we are interested in developing some more socially-driven programming which would bring in people who don’t currently visit us and there are two areas we have in mind. One is training and creative industries development related to employability for young people. The other is looking at provision for older people living locally who may be socially isolated. We are in a rural area and we know there’s a need and, if the pilot were successful, we might look to attract other funding through partnerships with third sector and older people’s advocacy organisations.”

Ditchling charges for entry and Steph envisages using some of the Hallmarks grant to “take the risk out of” testing free openings.

“There are a number of large-scale events in the village which attract lots of people but those people mostly then don’t then pay to come into the museum. If we had free entry on those days, and only asked for donations, we’d hope that we’d see at least some of the loss in admission charges offset by the rise in donations and in spending in the café and shop, areas where our visitor spend is already quite strong.”

Experimenting with free admission could also help drive repeat visits.

“We’re interested in piloting twilight free opening, especially for people in the village. Again, the thinking is that if we get more people in it might generate significant benefits. Those visitors may not spend at the same levels as paying ones but, clearly, there would be other advantages in that we’d be engaging with our immediate community.”

Ditchling will also explore what more it can do online, both to encourage donations as part of ticket sales and in retail.

Steph says: “We have a lot of ticketed or bookable events and asking people to donate at point of sale could generate a small but steady stream of income which we are not currently receiving. It may be that some is direct selling and other is partnerships through other aggregated platforms. The Hallmarks grant will give us a chance to look at that and try it out, in a limited way. What we would sell would have a relationship with the museum, so would fit with core purpose and activity, but the people who would buy might just be interested in buying things they can’t buy in mainstream shops.”

Importantly, the grant will also give both staff and trustees time for some development work on business planning.

“We are going to use some of the money to pay for backfill cover to enable staff and trustees to have time to get properly engaged with business planning. It’s important that everyone – curator, outreach, learning, as well as the front-of-house and retail – understands how it all fits together as a complete picture and that everything we do needs to be both central to what the museum is about and has a relationship to the business needs in terms of finance and income generation.”