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Council rip up consultants business plan for Tŷ Pawb – new version sets ‘challenging but realistic’ targets

NOTE: This content is old - Published: Tuesday, Jun 11th, 2019.

A new business plan highlighting both the lessons learned and successes during the first year of Wrexham’s new arts and cultural space is being implemented.

The plan, which entirely replaces the one created by Fourth Street consultants four years ago, aims to carry Tŷ Pawb through until 2024.

It proposes a number of changes including increased parking charges, a move towards a reduced but “continued high quality offer” due to staffing and a focus on opening hours to target the early evening after work economy.

The facility in the former People’s Market was set to be handed over to a local trust or similar external operator ahead of its opening in April 2018 as the consultants warned that it would be hindered by red tape if under council management.


However back in 2017 the council’s executive board voted in favour of keeping Tŷ Pawb under council control for at least three years – with issues surrounding state aid and procurement legislation cited at the time as potential barriers to having the facility operated by a local trust.

Speaking at the time, Cllr Hugh Jones, deputy leader of Wrexham Council, said: “The situation is, the business plan remains exactly the same, it is just that the management structure and the delivery will be in-house rather than in the hands of a trust.” With the new ‘Advisory Board’ having a ‘priority’ task to explore alternative governance models, that could be set to change in the future.

Despite the reassurances that the Fourth Street business plan would be adhered to under the council’s control, just 18 months later a new business plan has been created. It is possible that the full rewrite would not have taken place if the council’s Scrutiny committee process had not queried if a ‘wobble’ was taking place just months after opening.

The draft document (which can be viewed in full in this PDF) due before members of the employment, business and investment scrutiny committee on Thursday, also proposes a range of other alterations to effectively bin the initial consultants-produced plan.

The fresh business plan being presented to the committee also highlights the revised financial projections and direction of travel of Tŷ Pawb for the next few years amidst a mammoth set of documents we will attempt to pick through below.

One of the changes proposed is the number of exhibitions which will be displayed at the centre over the next year, with a drop from twelve to eight in a tightening of the arts and cultural offer.

Over the past 12 months there have been a series of exhibitions, including This is Planet Earth, Wrexham is the Name, On Paper and a Grayson Perry touring exhibition.

However going forward it is noted that the focus will shift towards “a less is better approach through the exhibition programme” by “putting more time into each exhibition to increase audience engagement and increase public programmes and integration with the market.”

The cost of delivering the exhibition programme in 19/20 is £79,200, which has been secured from Arts Council of Wales.

A “continued commitment from Arts Council Wales” with a grant of £115,000 is described as a ‘key highlight’ of the plan, however we are told future years Arts Council Wales funding are not secured as of yet. Although it is felt unlikely they would substantially have co-funded the creation of the centre last year to then cut it adrift on such vital revenue funding. Previously a ‘memorandum of understanding’ was given as an example of the commitment between the councils, however the copy we FOI’ed was dated January 2016 and ran for two years, with no reference to a new document in the new plan.

A positive nugget buried deep in an appendix (PDF here) is that exhibitions ‘initiated by the Tŷ Pawb team’ creates a revenue stream (with the first exhibition attracting over 15,000 visitors across its 3-month residency) via touring fees elsewhere.

There appears to be a clash between what Tŷ Pawb perhaps initially set out to offer and whether in reality that promise can generate the revenue and footfall needed to generate “sufficient income”.

In terms of events there seems to be a steer towards attracting more external events going forward, with ambitions for traders to setup up and host more events, and a look to corporate entities to use the venue for larger activities and takeovers.

One of the notable successes is the family activities during the school holidays, which is described as being “unprecedented” in the business plan. As a result it is acknowledged that there is a need to dedicate a larger portion of any successful Arts Council funding to them.

The report notes: “An additional challenge presents itself when we factor in the desire to reflect the aims and ambitions of Tŷ Pawb across everything we do, including our programme of events and activities.

“Events, which match up with our desire to be a cultural hub, may not always generate sufficient income to be commercially viable and conversely events, which are good potential revenue generators, may not fit completely within our wider desires and brand vision.”

Although committee members will be asked to form their own conclusions and recommendations for the executive board, it has been requested that they also propose that any “underspend against the cash limited budget, that an earmarked reserve is established in order to retain the funds to be reinvested back into Tŷ Pawb and the Arts Service”.

Previously we had been told by some councillors it had been hoped that the centre could generate cash that would then be in effect injected back into council coffers to be spent elsewhere, although it is not stated, any such reserve would be useful if the centre was moved to a trust or a new governance model.

Councillors have been given an overview table as well as detailed information, with the below showing the Fourth Street plan against an earlier revised plan and the actual outturn.

The ‘arts service cash limited budget’ is what Wrexham Council is spending, and has spent, on the arts service every year, so the overall shortfall could be seen as the extra cost of having the arts service all but hidden in its former home in the old library building compared to the new Tŷ Pawb development.

Footfall figures are referenced several times as an example of success as they are vastly increased on Fourth Street’s projections, however the original plan had some other ‘ambitious’ targets which were scaled back towards the end of last year and have now been totally rewritten.

The footfall figures in the report are split into earlier manual head counts and more recently firmer figures recorded via a new digital system that allows awareness of which entrances are the most popular. A digital system was installed in the town centre and came under criticism for accuracy, however month on month and year on year data is comparing like for like regardless.

Although the counters are outside the natural path to carparks to avoid non-centre specific foot traffic, the reports note “…it is acknowledged that not all visitors stop to use the facilities on offer in Tŷ Pawb as, due to its location the building serves as a convenient cut through across the town.”

Total visitor numbers April 2nd 2018– April 30th 2019 are given as 137,000 with still the highest single day is the estimated 10,000 visitors on opening day itself, with the hosting of Focus Wales in the centre also giving the figures a massive boost.

38,555 visitors are attributed to the various main exhibitions during the same period, with Fourth Street projecting ‘between 50,000 and 100,000 arts-related visits’ based off market appraisal carried out by yet another consulting company. The projection was broken down to specify it was 64,000 visiting exhibitions, or 48,000 unique visits, with consultants noting the issue of double counting people as people may visit cafes and the shop as well.

Further attendances are given on an event-by-event basis in a supplementary document, which appears to be an updated version from a previous scrutiny committee in December, data that raised eyebrows of some traders who attended that meeting.

Since opening last year occupancy levels of stalls, units and – the anecdotally key draw of the centre the food court – have fluctuated, with a number empty stalls when Tŷ Pawb opened last year. One of the key changes for attracting new traders has been sub dividing the existing units to make them smaller – something we’re told came from feedback from those looking to open there.

Since opening there has been inconsistency in terms of opening hours, with the original Fourth Street business plan forecasting that Tŷ Pawb would be open seven days a week – only closing for Christmas and New Years Day.

However there have been issues with general day to day opening hours, with Wrexham.com aware of occasions where people have visited expecting a wider offer and stalls have been closed,  plus a general lack of footfall on Sunday events. More recently Tŷ Pawb posted on Facebook to say its Sunday table top sales would be stopping for the summer due to the good weather.

In terms of the current opening hours at the centre, we cited examples where a number of stalls were closed at 3:45pm in the afternoon and the lack of the much promised evening economy.

Regeneration officer, Rebeccah Lowry, told us: “There are market regulations in place already, which require them to be open until 5:30pm.

“Where there are quieter times and with most being a one man band, to cover there six day a week, the businesses do close when quiet. We trying to support them. However it is a double edged sword.

“We all be reviewing opening hours. We can’t be all things to all people all the time. and we are reviewing times of the most footfall.”

The documents also contains a detailed ‘forecast’/expenditure sheet for 2018/19 which appears to contain actual figures for the year. This details how the bar now run by the council has £11.8k of sales, against a stock/rent cost of £9.9k. Other information includes the total marketing spend is £2k a month, down from over £6k a month in the initial Fourth Street plan.

The business plan document itself it mainly taken up by the ‘functions’ of the centre, a much fuller and detailed per-section/area break down than was given by Fourth Street.

These pages are split into an easily readable look back over the year at the issues and problems encountered, the positives for each, what lessons have been learnt and what can be progressed in the future, and finally wrapped up with a financial view on each area.

With the council operating the centre and also schools in Wrexham the report does note some possible red tape with ‘difficulty engaging with schools in the earlier part of the year’ mentioned. The adapting nature of the project is noted in the learning programmes, with Saturday Art Club successfully being moved and ‘rebadged’ to a ‘Family Art Club’ and as a result ‘numbers have increased significantly and this is now a very popular part of the programme’.

The council runs a retail unit in Tŷ Pawb, ‘Siop//Shop’, which gives comparison to a year of figures before the centre opened as it was based in a unit fronting on Chester Street. Turnover was just £13,772 when on Chester Street, however that is now £35,510 inside Tŷ Pawb.

It is explained that the new shop saw an average of just under the target of 40 visitors a day (based off the Fourth Street plan with 364 days opening), with future improvements including extra wall and floor signage along with development of a ‘Made In Wrexham’ brand.

An intern is likely to be hired to help run a ‘more dynamic and pro-active online presence for the shop’, compared to the single non-ecommerce webpage out there now.

We are told the centre’s website will be redeveloped totally and a new site will be launched, despite the current version being a bespoke site from a south wales development studio. This will counter numerous obvious errors on the existing site, not limited to empty ranking pages for key terms, duplicate opening time information and no ability to make purchases online.

The centre as a ‘venue’ appears to have been seriously miscalculated by the consultants employed by the council creating the original business plan, alongside the change in how the council was running the centre. The new plan is self-critical at earlier decisions with a backwards non-researched pricing structured explained: “Finding our ‘price point’ and establishing exactly how much hirers are prepared to pay for Tŷ Pawb’s offer (initial venue hire rates were calculated based on income targets rather than directly reflecting the price points of comparable local venues)”.

PA systems have had to be hired in for some events, despite the centre being brand new and kitted out with some expensive audio visual equipment, this is set to change as the new plans notes the council have “invested in a new p.a. system, which will allow us to expand our offer to be a “complete” music venue”

Hiring the venue is detailed further, with Moneypenny recently taking over the centre and ‘dressing’ it to create their own wonderland. This is referenced in the plan, “We have had some success in our first year in engaging with corporate clients wishing to hire Tŷ Pawb for events and promotions. This year we will actively target local and national corporate clients with a view to expanding our portfolio of high profile hirers such as Moneypenny.”

There are also ideas to branch that out further for weddings, birthdays and other private events – and for those sceptics who think that will never happen, it is noted: “Tŷ Pawb has during its first year hosted several birthday parties, children’s clubs, a scout jamboree and acted as the venue for two wedding receptions.”

The Markets, Arcade Shops and Studios have a big part to play in sustainability and attraction of the centre, with the ‘loss of several of our initial tenants’ noted but the occupancy is now fuller and there is a ‘waiting list’ in operation.

A Trumpian “negative press coverage around traders and the general trading environment” statement is found in the new plan very close to “challenges and issues with legal and financial procedures relating to trader agreements and billing” and “loss of several of our initial tenants”.

Last year Wrexham Council had to offer some traders a 50% rent concession due to the early issues in the long planned centre they own and operate, as detailed in this factual/negative article here. Traders blamed the council over paperwork delays that resulted in some being threatened with eviction, with Wrexham.com later running an article entitled “We want to pay rent” in Tŷ Pawb – ‘Glacial’ Council blamed as traders fire back”. We are assured such council-created paperwork issues are a thing of the past.

The impact of any empty units in the South Arcade will affect the centre more than if stalls go empty, as they appear eligible to pay business rates. That is detailed in the new information as an empty unit costing the centre £10k out of the overall budget.

Thankfully a ‘waiting list’ is in place for stalls and the food court, and it is noted: “We are now experiencing stability amongst the traders.”

Some traders have publicly noted tough trading conditions, however the council take a line similar to those who ponder how the town’s footfall figures are so high but they find takings low, with the offer from traders questioned: “An evaluation of the goods and services offered by the traders within Tŷ Pawb is an important step in our continued development.”

Tŷ Pawb itself found its genesis in various consultants reports and discussions some years ago with reviews taking place to what a modern market should be, with the secret Quarterbridge report apparently giving the council a blueprint to transform the then towns markets.

The Tŷ Pawb facility replaced the Peoples Market and retains a market element, with Fourth Street, the Council’s Project Steering Group and Advisory Group as well as architects Featherstone Young all working together on ideas and plans before the grand opening.

Now in 2019 the latest plan notes yet another review over what a market should be could take place: “Footfall figures demonstrate that people are being attracted into the building, encouraging them to spend their money with the traders (if they are not already doing so) may require a review of exactly what the people of Wrexham are looking for within their markets.”

One of the key aspirations and promises to the public and councillors of Tŷ Pawb was to open up and provide a bridge from daytime into the evening economy with a focus on Friday and Saturday nights, with late night openings in the original business plan for both of the days.

Despite a few events taking place, this has yet to become a permanent fixture, something we are aware has been a bone of contention with some traders.

Mrs Lowry told us: “We haven’t yet got a foothold into early evening and that is focus for this year. We need to review the times and need to be open when the demand is there.”

The carpark is a huge revenue raiser for the centre, and has been effectively donated by the council into the Tŷ Pawb pot . The new plan also inadvertently highlights a lack of historic investment in the carpark by the council, with “ongoing historic reliability issues with the car park infrastructure” referenced, and presumably the onus on Tŷ Pawb’s budgets to sort them out.

Initial plans for the build had a rooftop cinema, viewing platforms from the tower and a total refurb throughout. Due to the decrease in available budget that did not happen, however thankfully some of the more grim areas of the carpark will finally get a tidy to bring it more into line with what a visitor could expect to a brand new centre, “The quality of the environment within the car park is an area for focus within year 2. Improving the appearance of front facing areas and areas of higher footfall will be considered as part of a focus on bringing the car park more in line with the overall brand image of Tŷ Pawb.”

Incentivised parking was previously mooted, and could now come into play, so those who park there and patronise Tŷ Pawb would get an unspecified ‘incentive’.

In a change that could affect people outside the centre there is a proposal to bump the parking charges up from £2.50 for a full day to £3 for a full day, which could generate an extra £14,000 in revenue. Such a change would bring the car park in line with the Waterworld car park.

Although the plan and reports are quite recent they were written before initial ‘anchor tenant’ Plat Bach closed its doors for business reasons (the unit has reopened with new trader), so the description of “The food court unit originally ear marked for usage by the Tŷ Pawb team continues to be operated by the original tenant and has demonstrated that varying your retail offer and engaging with the activities curated within the building can lead to a successful proposition” is awkward.

Fourteen jobs from operations through to creative director to caretakers are listed in the business plan, with many more volunteers referenced.

The extra work of the team is explained: “The staff team have consistently demonstrated their willingness to commit their own time to events and activities to ensure that Tŷ Pawb deliver’s on its ambitions and the support provided by relief staff and volunteers has been invaluable.”

We have seen calls by staff to increase the resources available to them due to the ‘small’ nature of the team running things, with the documents before councillors explaining why opening times and usage of the centre needs to be reviewed, with the indication that the team will not be expanded but the offer itself changed: “In order to maintain the quality of the offer available at Tŷ Pawb and to ensure we continue to consider the health and wellbeing of the staff team a review of opening hours, event frequency and facility usage is being undertaken.

“This will ensure that within the resources available that we are staying responsive and dynamic and provide an ‘offer’ that meets the expectation of our visitors from both a local, regional and national audience.

“The view that potentially reducing the quantity of events and activities delivered would allow the existing staff resource to continue to build a consistent offer, maintain quality and give space to consider wider opportunities.”

Marketing is fleshed out from just a budget line in the Fourth Street plan to a page detailing how digital and traditional marketing will be leveraged, with analytics being used to shape future campaigns. Recently we have highlighted issues with how twitter reach is calculated in reports presented to councillors, with firm ‘reach’ stats given which could be interpreted very differently.

The plan wraps up with ten principle risks identified that could impact the plan actually taking place as hoped. The risk is followed by the impact, and a plan to hopefully stop it from happening.

The number one risk is defined as poor commercial performance meaning the planned programme could not be delivered, with a firm well researched budget and ongoing monitoring countering that along with a reassuring sounding ‘set of contingency plans to address variations from plan’.

The second highest is “Negative/Unfavourable Press Comments” which has the potential to affect “visitor numbers and reputation damage, deterring sponsors and partners”. That is being solved by a “more engaged relationship with local media channels”. Hopefully that engagement means if we pop in to have a cuppa and do some voluntary work we won’t get actually shouted at and accused of having a money making clickbait agenda for articles such as this, as has happened previously.

Money is a common theme with the ever tightening purse strings of Wrexham Council itself making the list, with the Council Leader regularly telling the public it is a case of what, not if, council services will be cut due to make savings. The risk is defined as ‘…reduction in overall income which may lead to a reduction in staffing levels impacting the capacity of Tŷ Pawb to operate’. Unsurprisingly the answer is to ‘increasingly become less dependent on WCBC funding by seeking to diversify our funding lines’, which could be the trigger for the wider governance review.

“Visitor numbers not realising their expected targets” is a risk that could impact the flow of funding, as funded actions could be seen as not being value for money. A ‘three stage strategic approach’ to arts marketing will take place, along with ‘developing and using audience profiling tools and techniques’ to ensure that does not happen.

The Advisory Board is also fully detailed in a public document for the first time, with inaugural members and roles listed as below, along with an ‘action plan’ on page 21 of the plan’s PDF.

Derek Jones – Business Planning (Chair)
Cllr Hugh Jones – WCBC Lead Member
Iolanda Banu Viegas– Engagement and Equalities
Gwynne Jones – Governance and Legal
Julian Hughes – Leadership and Strategy
Iwan Berry – Marketing and Communication
Barry Hellen – Operational Management
Sophia Leadill – Arts Programme
Lisa Heledd-Jones –Arts Advisor

The potential change of the governance model from council run to a unknown separate entity is high on the Advisory Board’s agenda, with it noted any change could take a year to implement.

Therefore it is deemed ‘a priority’ for the Board to consider the governance issue during this year and into early next, with a guide plan to give recommendations to the Council ‘by April 2021’. This timeframe apparently allows “…adequate time is given to implementing any changes that may be required ahead of the end of the three-year commitment made by the Council in September 2017 to retain management for the first three years.”

We have previously asked for agendas and minutes from the Board meetings, and although they never turned up, we are assured the centres new website will make them public.

Previously Cllr Hugh Jones has referred to the development capital and revenue pricetags of the centre as the “cost of culture”, and part of the supplementary documentation to the business plan are a handful of accounts from people engaged in the centre. These accounts give an insight to the value of Tŷ Pawb that can’t be expressed in a spreadsheet, including this from Myles: “I started off as a volunteer at Tŷ Pawb in early May 2018. I was attending a course at North Wales training, the aim of the course was to help get people back into work. I lost my job due to illness. I suffer from bipolar disorder and hadn’t worked since 2014. Most of 2015 was spent in hospital.

“In 2016 I relocated to Wrexham from London. Working as a volunteer at Tŷ Pawb has been a tonic, my confidence is back and I enjoy every day. In December 2018 it was suggested that I apply for one of the gallery relief jobs that were coming up. I applied and got the job. I now have a job at the place I loved volunteering at, so I actually get paid to have a great time at work.

“The staff at Tŷ Pawb are great and have welcomed me both as a volunteer and a paid member of staff. I have been involved with numerous projects at Tŷ Pawb. Most recently the gardening project. I really enjoy working with the children and I am lucky to have assisted with the Criw Celf program and some of the workshops in the summer holidays.”

The mammoth new business plan and associated documentation will be considered by members of the employment, business and investment scrutiny committee at 4pm on Thursday afternoon. The meeting will also be webcast live on the Wrexham Council website.

The documents before councillors are:
The formal overview report.
The new business plan, which unlike the Fourth Street plan is a public document from the start.
Forecast revenue and expenditure (this appears it could be actual figures rather than forecast)
Performance and activity summaries

Forgotten the journey the building itself has been on? Here is a selection of our videos, starting with a refresher of what the Peoples Market looked like on the day it closed, right through transformation to the then new Tŷ Pawb opening day.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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