JW3 chief voices fears over future funding

Raymond Simonson warns that the community centre’s long-term sustainability will hinge on its short-term fundraising


JW3 CEO Raymond Simonson has warned that the community centre’s long-term sustainability will depend on its fundraising over the coming months as it reopens its doors.

The Finchley Road centre has suffered losses of £1.5 million during lockdown and a star-studded online telethon, Big Night In, is part of an effort to generate revenue.

“JW3 is not about to go bankrupt,” Mr Simonson stressed. “We haven’t launched an emergency ‘give us your money or the building closes’ [appeal]. My concern is the medium and long term.”

To mitigate the effects of the pandemic, the centre has reduced its number of contracts, paused recruitment and made use of the government’s furlough scheme — at one point, only 22 of its 73 staff were working. It has also relied on reserves built up over the past few years. However, “those reserves are meant for a rainy day and it’s been pouring all year”.

For JW3 to be able to offer a full programme of events, it needs to recoup some of its losses over the past five months.

“If we don’t raise money, we will have to run a severely reduced programme,” Mr Simonson said.

Pre-Covid, the centre hosted between 150-170 activities per week and welcomed up to 4,500 weekly visitors. Activities will drop to 20-30 as things resume although the hope is to increase that number over the next three months.

The need for social distancing will dramatically reduce the capacity of its larger spaces. Its 300-seat hall will now be limited to 80 people. Its cinema will only be able to admit an audience of around two dozen rather than 60. The centre will operate on reduced hours, remaining closed on Fridays, and event start times will be staggered.

With the logistical challenge of having to adapt operations to meet government guidelines, Mr Simonson felt he hadn’t enjoyed “a proper night’s sleep for six months”.

One JW3 feature which will not be reopening is its restaurant, Zest, whose staff have been laid off. Mr Simonson said it would not have been financially viable to run Zest in a Covid-secure way and he did not want to divert charitable funds to keep it afloat.

However, the restaurant space will continue to be used for JW3’s new role as a food bank distribution hub and he hopes that a coffee shop-style amenity can be added at some point.

The centre’s losses during the pandemic have been split relatively evenly between ticketed income, commercial revenue (for example, venue hire and the restaurant) and fundraising, with support events having to be cancelled.

And JW3 has not been able to take advantage of the government money made available to other institutions as it does not fit neatly into a funding category.

Mr Simonson noted that the £1.57 billion in funding for the arts announced by the government in July was geared towards institutions in danger of folding. “It’s an odd thing because you kind of get punished for managing your finances well,” he said.

The hope is to raise £150,000 from the Big Night In, with the Genesis Philanthropy Group pledging to match the first £50,000 in donations.

Inspired by Comic Relief and TV telethons, it will be hosted by actress Tracy-Ann Oberman and is expected to feature Stephen Fry, Harry Potter stars Imelda Staunton and Jason Isaacs and Downton Abbey’s Jim Carter.

Another big name participant will be Boy George, an example of the centre’s contacts paying dividends — a JW3 trustee knows the singer’s manager.

Following a Twitter exchange, comic Shappi Khorsandi agreed to perform and then roped in This Is Going To Hurt writer Adam Kaye.

Mr Simonson would like those tuning in on September 10 to give £10 or £15 — as he put it, the equivalent of a weekly saving on a commute’s worth of coffee for those now working from home.

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