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The Crescent

A diverse community arts centre

The Crescent is a cultural hub which has served the population of Belfast and beyond with a wide range of arts and cultural activities for over 30 years. Every week it offers live events and a diverse learning programme and provides spaces for exhibitions. It occupies a historic building on University Road, which underwent an award winning re-development between 2008 and 2010.

Principal funding comes from the National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council. However, The Crescent has a strong strategic vision and has been proactive in developing income from it’s own activities in order to increase it’s self-reliance and sustainability. The Crescent is careful to balance the need to be financially sustainable with its ethos of accessibility to the arts for all.


The review: our terms of reference

The Crescent had been an existing client since 2012, and we had been providing general HR support through our Teammate® retained HR service. The Board contacted us, asking us to carry out a comprehensive organisational review. Activity levels had been increasing beyond projections for several years, a member of the senior management team had recently left and there was a concern that the Centre wasn't optimising the potential use of digital marketing channels.

Our terms of reference were to review the structure and resources of the organisation, ensuring that resources were being properly deployed in line with the strategic business plan taking into account the issues outlined.

However appreciable cuts in funding to the arts sector as a whole had been announced and the overarching consideration was to ensure the the organisation should have the resilience to cope with any future reductions in its grant funding.

The review: process, findings and recommendations

We carried out a detailed review of the Centre's most recent strategic plan, held a series of structured stakeholder interviews and benchmarked the Crescent's structure against models and structures that had been adopted by comparable organisations.

A key challenge for any organisational review is to overcome the natural reluctance of staff members to fully and honestly participate. Given that we had been acting as retained HR advisors to the Centre there was a degree of trust, and whilst being seen to be independent, we were uniquely placed to facilitate a candid response from staff members and to carry out a truly meaningful and actionable review.

Our Key findings were:

  • strong morale, a strong sense of team, and a great deal of respect for the Centre Manger;
  • however he was required to perform at both strategic and operational levels;
  • the organisational structure was too flat, with all staff reporting directly to him; and
  • an absence of individual objectives, with managers not trained to monitor the performance of staff

Key recommendations:

  • the Centre Manager role should be re-designated to Centre Director, with a renewed focus on artistic direction and strategic outlook;
  • he should be supported by newly created line management positions - Operations, Finance and Marketing;
  • the Centre Manager’s transition should be supported by coaching/mentoring as required; and
  • new Job Descriptions should be created for all roles, in support of the Centre’s corporate strategy, underpinned by a new Appraisal System

The implementation

The Board agreed with our recommendations, and the Centre Manager was re-designated as Centre Director and supported in his transition by an experienced coach from Headstogether.

We also successfully recruited the three new management positions and subsequently developed and rolled out a new staff appraisal system. We provided training to management and staff in how to operate the new system. Using the skills and capabilities available within our team, we were able to deliver a set of interventions perceived by the Centre as a single seamless project, minimising disruption.

The result

The overarching objective of the project was to support the Centre Director to take on a truly strategic role in the context of impending funding pressures and this was a success. Soon after the reorganisation the Board confirmed that due to the resilience of the Centre’s earned income streams, there would be no reduction in headcount as a result of reduced grant funding to the arts in Northern Ireland.

The new Marketing Manager immediately focused on developing digital marketing channels and the subsequent annual report confirmed “this has made an impact on audience interaction as well as resulting in brand new customers”.

The Centre continues to thrive as a mainstay of the Belfast arts scene, with a full programme of events, and we are pleased to continue providing ongoing HR support as and when it's needed.

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