Coney’s Social Impact – and some new ideas

It’s spring, the sun has finally come out of hiding, and everything outside is blossoming. At Coney HQ too, things are growing and changing as we enter a new round of Arts Council England NPO funding, and explore some new pathways for Coney’s work. This week, Coney’s Executive Producer Becki explains more about how Coney’s work is supported, and where we go from here.

Blossom image

Coney is growing. Two and a bit years ago it was Tassos and I in a room. Now we sit here surrounded by 4 people; Playful Accomplice Toby Peach, Producer Natalie Adams, Administrator Rowan Lyster and Associate-in-Residence David Finnigan. Outside of these walls there are now 17 Associates who co-lead our practice, 500 artists and makers in our network, and 8 trustees who give advice which we could never afford and could not live without.

The company isn’t full time; it’s a complicated jigsaw that is delicately balanced and changes every 6 months. Toby is 1 day a week, David is 7 months a year, I’m still freelance. But it suits us, and it was the only way the gods would allow us to have all of these brilliant people in the same room at once.

The shape of inner Coney isn’t widely known – it suitably sits behind the profile of our work, projects, partners and players. But every now and then, I’m asked to talk about it and I’m really happy to do that honestly and transparently. I think its really important that people know the story.

We are a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO), meaning we receive core funding from the Arts Council – but this funding has been fixed since 2012, and will likely never grow. If Coney are going to get bigger and impact more people, we need to think of something else. Part of the reason Coney is able to be the shape that it is at the moment is because of a scheme called Catalyst: Evolve, which provides extra support from Arts Council England to teach ourselves and test ‘new ways of generating money’. 

Currently, our delicate jigsaw is balanced upon two things; grant income for charitable work (projects we dream up ourselves) and earned income for projects with commission and consultancy partners (projects we dream up with others). However, Catalyst: Evolve is letting me explore a third strand towards an even more diverse income model; and, in theory, the strand that’s going to support our growth: Social Impact Investment (for projects with an extreme social impact). 

‘You learn more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation’. Coney make Play – which can take hundreds of forms but, generally, we define Play as anything where strangers come together and have a conversation. We do it to give agency; people are active co-creators in our experiences and that allows them to place themselves into the story or scenario, and reflect on what the themes might mean to them.

But why is agency important, why does it have value, why is this our chosen approach to connecting with people? And what are the different ways we can see it happening? Some of the value in our work is educational, of course, for young people, definitely, but all people, really. Some of it is creative, certainly, through the statement we make about permission to Play; to be silly, to have fun, to explore an alter ego, to push the boundaries of a system. But also, our work is largely social – we create communities with our projects, and they take place where our audience already happens to be. Therefore, there is an element to our work about wellbeing and about community. What change will our players make, what will they do differently as a result of something we’ve offered to them?

And right there comes the welcomed challenge; how do we unpick and understand Coney’s social value? In a country increasingly polarised, financially unjust and in dire need of cohesion, why do we have £122,828 a year in public money when classrooms are overfilled and our local hospitals don’t have enough staff to patients?

The journey that we’re on is to compare Coney to the many other ways out there to make an impact. Not just inside our Theatre funding from the Arts Council, or our expertise in interaction design, or our reputation for digital skills, but with the wider world, alongside the many people out there trying to make the same change.

I’ve spent the last 18 months teaching myself about this party that’s definitely already started: I’ve attended events with the WISE100 to meet the women leading the social enterprise sector, I’ve read books on altruism to understand if we can ever really just do something good for others rather than for just for ourselves, I’ve sat in training courses with the SSE reminding me of the breadth of sectors who all have someone just like me with the next excellent idea for change, and I’ve listened to and been guided by an INCREDIBLE woman in social enterprise thanks to a scheme called Prosper that gave me time with her for free. I have been on an 18 month whirlwind of learning a whole new story for Coney. 

And if we get all that right, maybe we can plan a little bit longer than 6 months ahead. We’ve been given an opportunity to explore how we fit in the social sector. By identifying how we fit and becoming a key player, we have the opportunity to strengthen organisationally, because we’ve determined a new reason why we should. By taking a role in the conversation about the arts and social value, we are putting ourselves us on an even playing field with education, and sport and health and all the other charitable platforms demanding public money as it continues to shrink. And as a result, maybe we’ll be more widely understood.

This blog came about because we’ve been given our first pot of funding in Social Impact, which is a huge deal and a massive achievement for Coney HQ. But, we can’t yet say it out loud because first I need to sign a form. So for now, this is more of an invitation, to invite you think about this stuff, and to contact me if you want to talk about it from your point of view. Or if I, or Coney’s journey here can be helpful in any other way.

Would be fab if you would come along to the party to dance.

All best wishes,

Becki x

If you’d like to support Coney’s work in extreme social impact, consider supporting through our Friends’ Scheme. Anything you can afford to give is an incredible way to make a lasting difference to our work, and help us grow. What’s more, your donation will be matched by the Arts Council as part of Catalyst:Evolve, doubling its value to us.

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