A fortnight ago we announced our closure after what has been the most gruelling of years. It has felt as if we have been swimming furiously upstream and the announcement was admittance – to ourselves as well as others – that the waves have engulfed us. We can swim no more.
The news has come as a devastating blow to those who have come to rely upon us. To artists, many of whom have been loyally delivering for us for years. To staff who have worked tirelessly and who will now lose their jobs amidst a cost of living crisis. And to participants who stand to lose their classes which, to many, are more than dance. For many of our participants the classes, and all their friends within them, have become a family. Indeed, the ripple effect of this loss will be felt by many.
Perplexed reactions from organisations within the sector and from members of the public have also pointed to the absurdity of the Council applying for London Borough of Culture whilst letting its cultural assets such as Greenwich Dance disappear.
As a project funded organisation which was removed from Arts Council England’s National Portfolio back in 2017, Greenwich Council have always been well aware of the fragility with which we have been operating and the crucial part they play in our ongoing existence. Over the past five years, in order to create financial stability, we have reduced our reliance on our Voluntary and Community Sector grant from the Council by increasing income from Trusts and Foundations, but last year it still formed a sizeable 35% of our income. The ‘gold stamp’ of carrying a Royal Borough of Greenwich logo opened up other pots of council funding which amounted to a further 22%. Their decision to take away that funding in January sent us immediately into a critical state with so little time with which to be able to restabilise.
So Greenwich Council’s statement that our news ‘came as a great blow’ feels devoid of any responsibility. We are also conscious that it is misleading in that it implies that they stepped in to help ‘when it became clear that the organisation was in trouble’ which is not the case.
An organisation at risk of closure
In December 2022, following the unsuccessful outcome of several Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) applications, Greenwich Dance made it crystal clear to the council that the proposed 100% cut to our funding would put the organisation at risk of closure. Despite this, our appeals were rejected and three months later our VCS funding was gone, taking with it our entire youth dance programme.
During this period our CEO reached out to Anthony Okereke, Leader of the Council and Adel Khaireh, the Cabinet Member for Culture & Communities for support but emails went unanswered. Our grant manager for Arts and Culture, the strand through which Greenwich Dance has been supported for the past 30 years, was silent.
Meanwhile we rebudgeted, ran a successful crowdfunder, reached out to potential donors and corporates and wrote 20 funding applications. Every one of these applications was rejected, yet often with glowing feedback. “There’s just not enough money” was the general sentiment. A number of these were from Arts Council England (ACE) and several subsequent requests to ACE for advice went unanswered.
In June our CEO emailed every Greenwich Councillor to draw their attention to her published response to the national conversation about arts funding. Within this she set out the challenging conditions we were mounting our summer programmes in and called for support.
Later that month our CEO recorded a podcast about the funding crisis facing the arts with Nicholas Hytner and Tarek Iskander, where she spoke frankly about the difficulties facing Greenwich Dance. Again, she wrote to every councillor pointing them towards it.
At the end of June, the Greenwich Dance team was visited by the council’s Head of Communications and Culture during one of our events. We were asked how levelling up was affecting us and we responded by saying we had only months left. They talked of the difficulties facing the cultural organisations in Greenwich and they shared thoughts about approaching successful businesses for further funds. Following the visit our CEO emailed to thank them for visiting in person and repeated, in writing, details of the financial and capacity challenges Greenwich Dance was facing. Additionally, she also offered her time to further brainstorm ways to support culture in the borough.
Her email went unanswered.
In mid July we were requested to complete a Financial Impact Survey in order to give the Council ‘a local update’ so that ‘we know how best to try and support you.’ It was completed immediately but no response or offer of help was forthcoming. Later that summer Councillor representatives on our Board advised that there was ‘a queue’ for support. To get into it, despite the completed survey, we needed to write, again, to the Council which we did on the 21st July.
A meeting was granted in September and rather than requesting financial help (which given our unsuccessful appeal in January we deemed would be fruitless) our CEO put forward an innovative proposition. As an organisation we had two years of activity grants – not enough to cover the organisation’s core costs but enough to cover delivery. Our CEO proposed that the Council consider hosting Greenwich Dance as a project, thus removing the expense of her salary and overheads, moving our team of brilliant producers and artists over to be their team to fulfil activity for which money had already been secured. We requested the time of a new consultant in their team to help brainstorm the logistics. The proposal to host was rejected immediately but 8 hours of the consultant’s time was granted. Every ‘option’ discussed involved closure. An 11th hour idea from our CEO would have retained the organisation as an independent charity but was dependent on an injection of £80k of immediate funding and would have covered only a few days a week of senior leadership. The funding was explored but not forthcoming. The Board were left with no other option but to close.
The story of Greenwich Dance is one of resilience. We have never given up easily and the past 30 years are testament to that. We know how reliant people are and continue to be on the services we provide so we are busy behind the scenes talking to our amazing Trusts and Foundations about ways to move grants to other organisations. We can’t thank these Trusts enough – they have been so kind, supportive and willing to explore ideas with us. We are feeling hopeful and we will of course let everyone know if we succeed.
We will always believe in the transformative power of dance. And we have loved dancing with you.