On the first of April, we will become part of the National Portfolio. We owe this to Charlie.
First, let me put that into perspective. Becoming a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) means joining Arts Council England’s (ACE’s) exclusive gang of 650-odd organisations. These include the National Theatre (NT), Royal Opera House (ROH), English National Opera (ENO) and Compicite (C). It means that we have three years of secure funding, or as secure as any government funding is at the moment (right, kids?). It means a whole change of mindset for us, developing deeper relationships with artists, schools and other partners.
And this is why we owe it to Charlie. When we held the interviews for the position of Executive Director, back in the dismally dark and damp January of 2014, Chair of our Board Emma Stenning asked each candidate the same question: “should the Bike Shed apply for NPO?”.
“Yes. Of course. Other organisations are. The Bike Shed is at least as good as them.”
This answer showed off a number of attributes in Charlie that have proved constant in her year and a bit with the Bike Shed. It showed a positivity of outlook. It showed an external confidence that inspires others, not least me. It showed ambition. And most importantly, it showed an appreciation of the Bike Shed. Charlie and I have spent a lot of time recently talking about people “getting” the organisation. We’re an odd venue – like the child who all the teachers describe as “difficult”, the child that consequently some people end up rooting for the most. Charlie has always got the Bike Shed. She’s always rooted for us.
Her certainty that we should apply for NPO was soon put to the test as we set about writing it. We locked ourselves away in Exeter Phoenix (who play the role of the kindly sixth former who looks out for our troubled friend). Three weeks later, through long weekends and longer budgets, we’re half an hour from the deadline. Only Charlie’s laptop keeps on crashing (our lack of funding meaning we can’t afford to replace it for another four, painful months). At five minutes to, we submit. And wait.
Charlie has excelled in her role as Executive Director. She’s been effortlessly collegiate and worked tirelessly to keep the doors open. Moreover, she’s a fantastic producer, an unseen but essential part of the success Tortoise and Hare and Edgar and the Land of Lost. Quietly, she supported the artists, holding things together on two productions that contained ridiculously large amounts of risk. She’s a great asset to the cultural scene in Exeter and we’re lucky to have her.
Charlie Parker (CP): happy birthday. And thanks.