Money is a reality for all of us in our society, however we feel about it. Whilst we don't think it's inherently evil, it certainly is a source of much negativity, stress and expectation.
One of these expectations we face as a nonprofit is that we will be cheaper than everywhere else and that we can offer a lot of things 'by donation'.
In a way, we meet that expectation - our meals and drinks are priced in line with places that do not serve organic or fairtrade, and who do not choose ethical suppliers regardless of cost. We also do have a 'Magic Hat' for many of our events, which means people pay what they can afford.
But some of the people who visit us feel that they are unable to afford what we offer, especially those who are unemployed, students or low waged.
So, let's address that question - because it's an important one.
Our aims are threefold:-
- To promote the arts
- To enhance our local and global community
- To support & promote healthy, sustainable and positive living
In order to meet these aims, we do everything from exhibiting local artists work to running workshops, from serving wholesome organic food & drink to hosting an annual seed swap.
All of this, all of it, is paid for by the sale of food and drink, with some money coming in from event fees and donations. Selling all that gorgeous nosh both meets our aims and helps us get the money to meet some of the other ones (the art, events and craft make a loss on paper).
But don't we get funding?
In almost five years of running we have received just £5000 funding for our running costs. The Council give us a 50% rate reduction and a reduction on the rates we pay to access the back of our building over their land.
After that, we are on our own.
Our running costs currently stand at around £2900 per week we are open, just under £150,000 per year. Yup, it's a lot, isn't it!
Our highest cost is food & drink supplies (all that organic nommy-ness doesn't come cheap at between £600 & £800 per week) followed by wages for our five paid staff (all of whom are paid part time and volunteer many extra hours) at around £23K, rent at £15K, VAT at around £8K, building maintenance costs that just seem to keep coming, council tax, licences for music, alcohol sales and putting chairs & tables outside, electricity, water, PRS (for music), PVS (for films), waste removal, insurance....and a bookkeeper and accountant to keep all those numbers in order for us.
It fair makes your head spin!
To meet these costs we price our food & drink at exactly the level we need to to cover what is going out - and so far, we have been fortunate enough to meet those costs due to the wonderful support of our community.
So, although we'd love to offer much cheaper food, if we were taking less for what we sell, we would run out of money to pay those gazillions of bills, and eventually close.
Being cheaper may seem like a compassionate act on the surface, the end result would be to close and let down all the people who rely on us. That's 60 visitors a day on average, 92 volunteers, 5 part-time paid staff and between 30 - 40 groups and events per month that happen here, the 15 or so musicians who play here each month, the 20 or so poets and storytellers who perform, the 45+ artists who exhibit here every year, the 30 or so craftpeople who sell work.
Man, that would so totally suck.
So, how do we balance meeting our costs with making ourselves accessible to our community?
We do believe that our prices offer spectacular value for home cooked, organic food. We also have always had a commitment that there is a light lunch & drink option under or around a fiver on our menu, and in the late afternoons there is usually a 'potluck special' which is £3/£4 - which is usually the soup or hotpot of the day, until it runs out!
That said, we totally understand that it can be hard to access our meals if one is on a low income.
There are two ways to make the Art House experience more affordable, and both involve an energy exchange where we are supported, too - a nice flow between yourself and our organisation!
The first is to volunteer.
We recognise that the most valuable thing anyone can give us is their time.
Our volunteers get a meal when they are working, and after 12 shifts a privilege card which gives them 50% off everything here. Many of our crew are on low income or benefits and are able to come here very regularly because they have this card.
It is just a small way for us to thank them as they are the lifeblood of this place, without volunteers there would be no Art House.
The second way is to invest in a 'Friends of The Art House' card.
This costs just £35 for the year if you are on an income lower that £12,000, and gives you 25% off food, drink and clothes.
There's also the same discount on many workshops, and some workshops are even free to Friends. We are also putting into place a way to spread the cost of this card over three months, as we realise some people cannot afford a lump sum. Also, keep an eye out on Facebook and Twitter for sweepstakes to win a free Friends card.
We feel that we have found our own way to be accessible to our community whilst ensuring our security and survival for the coming years.
It's a delicate balance, recognising the importance of money without letting it get in the way of what we stand for.
Our future plans include getting more space for the groups we are currently having to turn down, improving our disabled access and even building a roof garden for people to enjoy and to grow some of our own veg up there!
Wouldn't that be fabulous?
To realise these dreams, we need to keep that abundance flowing in, we need to start generating a surplus, and we may need more paid crew. Which means valuing what we do and charging what it is worth :)
What we can promise is that every penny you spend here goes a long, long way to putting positivity out into the world - and that is something you really can't put a price tag on.