Like many charities, Head2Head Sensory Theatre has experienced considerable financial challenges due to the pandemic. However, with the help of a Charity Bank loan, the charity has significantly reduced its outgoings and now has ambitious plans for growth.
Head2Head’s founder and administrator, Anni Rhodes-Steere, explains why Charity Bank is her ‘knight in shining armour’…
Can you tell us about Head2Head?
I set up Head2Head in 2006 to give young people with disabilities access to the world through drama. We don't specialise in any particular disability – our shows are accessible to everyone.
Why did you need a loan?
A property came up in Oxted, Surrey, that we wanted to buy. Charity Bank was the only one that came to our rescue. All the high street banks said, “No, thank you. We wouldn’t want to be seen to be closing down a charity if things went belly up.” Even our own bank wouldn't help us. Charity Bank was our knight in shining armour.
Charity Bank is supported by savers and shareholders, and I want to say a huge thanks to them all. The loan made our small dream come true, and it gave us a kickstart towards a bigger dream. We’ve already moved our offices and equipment into the property, but we’re also hoping to raise funds to turn one of the spare rooms into a film studio and drop-in performance centre. So, little acorns…. We've got our base, and we'll grow from there.
What made you decide to buy the property rather than continue renting?
The rent was huge on our previous property. The building was divided up into small rooms so couldn’t accommodate us long-term and we couldn't make big changes or even put things up on the wall. It was also in an area prone to flooding. I'd get alerts at nine o'clock at night that the place could be flooded. We were always running over to move things off the floor and it was just a nightmare scenario.
In the new property, we've got lovely open spaces. The people that sold us the barn have given us the most wonderful start; they've left us beautiful desks, cutting tables, ironing tables, vacuum cleaners, television sets, fire extinguishers – a wonderful array of things that we now don’t need to buy. Everybody's opened their arms to us and said, “Head2Head, you deserve this. We're going to support you.”
That's great to hear. What other benefits does the property offer?
We're now much closer to Orpheus – a performing arts college for young disabled people. Many of their students come to us for work experience as stage directors, stage managers, voiceover artists and performers, and we hope to expand on that. So again, we're growing in little ways that we just hadn't envisaged two years ago.
You mentioned that the rent was expensive for your previous property. Are your loan repayments more affordable?
The loan repayments are much lower than the rent so we’re saving a lot of money. We've really struggled this past year to keep our heads above water, so it’s a huge relief to have reduced monthly payments. And, of course, the property is an asset. If we want to buy something, we've got some collateral. It’s putting Head2Head on a different level. It's giving us stability, which is a wonderful feeling, and all the actors are terribly excited about having their own home.
Could you have bought the property without loan finance?
We couldn’t have bought the property without a loan; it's a bad time for fundraising. During the first year of COVID, people opened up their coffers to support us. By the second year of COVID, those pots were either empty or pretty well drained.
Charity Bank, the vendors and our artistic team, our dream would have
floundered. Our vendors bent over backwards to help, as did Charity Bank, to
make sure that we got our home, our base. I am so grateful to everybody.
"It was our first large loan, so it was a bit frightening and the trustees had to be absolutely certain that we were making the right decision. I had tremendous support from the team at Charity Bank – Danny Wilson-Dodd and Stacey Goodrich. They held our hands, coached us, and guided us through the process. They were friendly, and we felt that they were on our side. There was nothing pompous or stuffy about the process at all. It was a little daunting not knowing whether we would get the money, but we felt that if anybody could help us do it, that team could. They were brilliant."Anni Rhodes-Steere, Founder and Administrator, Head2Head
What were the main challenges of the process?
It was challenging getting all the forms signed. There’s far more documentation than for buying an ordinary house. At times, that was quite nerve racking – getting everything right and done in time. But as I said, the team were very supportive and gave us pro forma paperwork, which helped us to create our own paperwork.
I would recommend Charity Bank to anyone wishing to get a loan. If it can be achieved, they will make sure that you can do it. The process is difficult, but it's not unachievable.
Did it help that Charity Bank specialises in loaning money to charities and social enterprises?
It absolutely helped that Charity Bank understand charities and how we work. Right from the word go, they explained their structure, where they were coming from, and why they were there to help. And that immediately put me at ease, knowing that they were on our side. That was so refreshingly wonderful. And also, they knew what the trustees had to do, so they helped them to do it. Because it was a big endeavour for the trustees, a big step for them to take. But it was all made possible by the Charity Bank team.
Looking back, is there anything you wish you'd known at the start of the journey that you do now?
I wish I'd known about Charity Bank right at the beginning. I tried high street banks and our own bank, which is supposed to be a good bank for charities, but they just weren't interested. And then I Googled ‘loans for charities’, and up popped Charity Bank. So I rang up and spoke with Danny, and it was a case of “How can we help?” It was such a relief. Danny came to visit us as well, which made it more personal.
What’s next for Head2Head?
The property is the anchor that we can expand on. We're now getting calls from all over the world, from people who want to learn about what we do, and how we do it. We've also got National Lottery funding for a part-time staff member – until now we’ve been volunteer-led.
So you think having that solid, permanent base will help you to grow?
The property will absolutely help us to grow. We’ve got big plans. Obviously, we have to move slowly, but our aim is to have actors fully working at the theatre providing work experience opportunities and drama lessons.
A lot of disabled young people go into group homes when they leave full-time education, or they stay at home but have fewer opportunities to socialise. When we get the funding, these young people will be able to have drama lessons with us, meet people and expand their lives. Even now, we've got young people 100 miles away who perform with us via Zoom.
Charity Bank has helped many charities to move from renting to owning. If you need finance, please call us on 01732 441919.
About Charity Bank
Charity Bank is the loans and savings bank owned by and committed to supporting the social sector. Since 2002, we have used our savers’ money to make more than 1,100 loans totalling over £400m to housing, education, social care, community and other social purpose organisations.
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