How to move your organisation

Talawa Theatre Company is one of the UK’s primary Black led touring theatre companies, providing a platform for Black actors and artists to launch and establish their careers in the wider industry. Touring at least one production each year, Talawa works with and for a diverse range of audiences and participants to inspire, educate and tell stories that are informed by the wealth and diversity of the Black British experience.

As part of Change Creation, Talawa has been searching for a new building… a new home. Inevitably the challenges – the known and the unknown – have been plentiful, and here Natasha, Executive Director reflects on her time with Change Creation.

“We knew that having an independent creative space was fundamental to our business… our premises at the time were being redeveloped so there was a real sense of urgency. At the same time, we knew that we needed to take the time to get it right. Moving house is hard enough, so we knew that moving an entire organisation was not going to be easy!

We wanted to use the opportunity of moving, to focus on our strategy, our approach, our partnerships, audiences and staff. There is little point in moving to a new building if the processes, people, infrastructure, mission, and structures don’t support that move.

It’s been such a learning curve, a learning curve for me personally and for the organisation. I’ve learned that change takes time and it’s hard. There isn’t a quick fix and it’s not simply about implementing new processes. It’s about creating the right environment for change to happen – awareness and understanding, commitment and support, appetite and momentum. We all needed to be on the same page, know where we were going as an organisation and why. Change Creation has given us the opportunity to take time out of the ‘day-to-day’ to reflect on this.

We began to feel like property developers, we looked at lots of premises! Some I liked, and our Artistic Director Michael Buffong didn’t, and vice versa. We initially struggled to find consensus, but by asking ourselves the right questions, we’ve found somewhere (Fairfield Halls, Croydon) that we can say ‘This is Talawa, this is our new home, this is somewhere that we’re all excited about’. It’s not what we set out to look for, but we know it’s best for Talawa and the people we work with and for.

We’ll be getting more space – all our operations will be under one roof and we’ve got studio space to work closer with artists and community groups. We’re moving to a new community, meeting new partners and stakeholders and we already feel supported in a community that is alive with ambition and opportunity. All of this means we can look forward to our future, develop our national touring programme and continue to produce incredible work with the incredible talent that surrounds us, both in London and nationally.

For me personally Change Creation has helped me to grow in confidence as a leader. That’s thanks to the incredible people on Change Creation. Being part of a cohort, surrounded by other leaders from arts organisations of different size, scale and art form is the best support that I could have wished for. It was support that I wasn’t expecting but the generosity of other people’s time, insights and learning has been significant for me and for Talawa.

It’s like being in ‘live-time’ case studies. Richard Watts, Programme Director said at our very first workshop that the future is already here, but it’s unevenly distributed… and that’s true. No matter what we’ve faced, other people have experienced something similar, so to be in a supportive, friendly environment where people are happy to share is a real gift. I hope that I’ve been able to help others too.

I’ve also learned that creating change creates new opportunities. We’re moving to a new borough, and Paula Murray, Creative Director of Croydon Council in particular, has been instrumental in our move. We recently had an away day with our Board, and Paula gave a presentation about the Cultural Strategy, there’s a real sense that change is happening and that culture is at the heart of it.

We’re now working with a Change Creation consultant to imagine the future of our organisation and what that needs to look like. The expertise and insight is invaluable – I thought I knew what we needed, but having an expert ‘outside eye’ has really challenged and shaped my thinking.

So, whilst we’ve faced challenges and change, I know that the changes don’t stop here. Change is inevitable and recurring and I’m now better equipped to lead change in our organisation’s future. I’ll keep surrounding myself with supportive networks; share and harvest opinions, learning and expertise; invest more in, and value stakeholder relationships; take time to establish clarity and consensus; and maintain momentum for our work, our future and the communities we are part of.”

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