“We’d rather close than suffer a slow death” – interview with James Hopkirk, Editor of Ideas Tap, part 1.

When I first heard that Ideas Tap was to close, my first instinct was to Do Something – to campaign. On second thought, I had realized I would need information, and decided to speak to someone on the inside – which is how I ended up doing a thorough Skype interview with James Hopkirk, who took 90 minutes from his morning to answer my questions.

Rita Suszek: Hello James, how are you this morning?

James Hopkirk: I’m good, thank you! Still blown away by what you guys are doing!

RS: I’m happy to hear that. So – for the benefit of the readers – we started talking yesterday, when I learnt that Ideas Tap was closing and began to try and contact someone on the inside. Could you tell me how long have you known this was going to happen?

JH: In a way, I’ve always known this was a possibility. When I joined six years ago I knew that PDHCT (Peter De Haan Charitable Trust) had a finite pool of money.

But a few years back we decided that what we had created had exceeded our expectations, and that we were helping a lot of people – and it was worth ensuring it could continue.

So, we began fundraising. Over the last three years we’ve worked very hard to find funds from government, Arts Council, trusts and foundations, wealthy individuals – and so on. And we have had some success. For example, last year the Arts Council gave us a £250k exceptional award, for the nationwide training programme Ideas Tap Inspires. But it was project funding, not core funding – and core funding is what we need to continue.

To date, we’ve failed to find this sort of funding.

RS: So the core funding, as the name suggests, enables the organisation to run, and then there are particular projects where you might secure funding from an outside source, like the Arts Council?

JH: Yes, that’s right.We need an organisation or individual who can fund our core costs – the minimum for IdeasTap to operate and offer our members what we currently do.Additional projects on top of this are great – but they’re nice-to-haves, they don’t pay the bills.

We applied last year to the Arts Council for NPO status (National Portfolio Organisation) , which would have covered some of our core costs, but sadly we were unsuccessful.

RS: Dangerous ground here, perhaps, but is there any speculation or a reason why you were unsuccessful…?

JH: I don’t know, to be honest. Competition is fierce, and there’s a smaller and smaller pot of money to distribute – so it’s tough for all arts organisations. But because we help so many young artists nationwide, widen access to the arts and bring together so many different art forms and arts organisations in one place, we were very disappointed.

So about six months ago it started to become clear that we might have to close. And it was in November that the first steps in the process began.

RS: What were the first steps? Did you have to reduce staff?

JH: That’s right. The trustees decided that we couldn’t continue to spend money at the rate we were, so at that point, we had to reduce our headcount. At the same time, we also started looking into reducing our office overheads and so prepared to close our Creative Space programme, which has now shut.

RS: I see. Speaking of money spending – could you give me a run down of the numbers? I.e. how much do you need to continue running comfortably and so on.

JH: We cost about £2m a year to run. We’ve explored cheaper models, but the charitable outputs – the number of people we’d be helping – just didn’t stack up. We also don’t want to run a half-hearted version of IdeasTap – we’d rather close than suffer a slow death. We’re not cheap to run, sadly – space, staff, servers, developers and so on cost a lot of money.

Continued in part two.

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