BID Business of the Month – The Cheltenham Trust

The Cheltenham Trust (The Trust) is a registered charity that was established in 2014 to manage the town’s iconic venues, the Cheltenham Town Hall, The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum, Pittville Pump Room, Leisure at Cheltenham and Prince of Wales Stadium on behalf of Cheltenham Borough Council.

The charity stood out during this unprecedented time for its quick response to working within the community. The Trust repurposed its assets and resources including its in-house catering team to make use of their fresh food produce to create frozen ready meals and to organise food parcels to support the Gloucestershire Community Help Hub in delivering these to those in isolation and the most vulnerable people of Cheltenham. Their innovative virtual lockdown campaigns also did not go amiss, such as their newest town centre community bunting project incentive #LetsMeetAgain.

Cheltenham BID’s Maria Allebone speaks with Laurie Bell, Chief Executive, and Sara Oliver, Head of Marketing and Communications, as The Trust is named the BID’S Business of the Month for April.

MA: How are you both feeling after being in lockdown for six weeks?

LB: This is such an unpredicted situation; we all have been thrown into a situation that we have never planned for or imagined. It is about keeping that balance of how you manage in the now as well as always looking into the future and the positives of what it could look like and be like when we come out of the other side. We must make sure we are resilient and robust going forward.

SO: Similarly, I like focusing on activities that are moving forward, and that has been a challenge due to lockdown. I think that is a challenge for a lot of people, but I am feeling quite positive as we move forward. We are always planning and rolling out initiatives, and just seeing the community response and spirit has been really rewarding.

MA: Laurie, for people who are not familiar please could you tell us a little bit about The Cheltenham Trust?

LB: We manage an eclectic mix of the big iconic venues across Cheltenham that most people are very familiar with. They cover culture and entertainment through to leisure and general wellbeing. We do this at arm’s length for Cheltenham Borough Council our main partner. The Trust is a commissioned service. Cheltenham Borough Council give us a small grant each year which allows us to do a lot of the community work that we do, and the rest comes from the income that we generate through all our activities. So, whether that is the shows that many people attend at the Cheltenham Town Hall, weddings or other big banqueting events that are also hosted at the Pump Room, or whether it is through the memberships at Leisure@. Plus, we deliver other events at The Wilson. Our calendar for the whole year looks at how and where we can work with partners in Cheltenham to make the culture offer for the town really strong to entice not only local residents but also visitors to come into the town.

MA: Sara, what challenges have you faced during this time?

SO: From a marketing and comms perspective the biggest challenge has been ensuring we are reaching our audiences and that our messages are relevant.  You have probably seen that we have gone very much online, even though we have always had a strong digital presence, now it has become even more key. We are now reaching people who may not have followed us before and are building new audiences, which is great. We’ve not necessarily experienced problems, it’s been more a case of adopting different ways of approaching our communications and how we interact with people.

MA: How have you approached your communications differently so that you are reaching people?

SO: We are taking a clear focused approach to our communications, we analyse data to see where the traffic is coming from and look at what people are responding to and interacting with. That was apparent from the great response we had when we asked through social media for donations of cardboard boxes for our food delivery service. Within hours the community had swung into action and boxes had started arriving, and they just kept coming!

We are working hard to ensure our messaging is interesting and engaging and that we’re using appropriate channels. We’re active on LinkedIn, we are seeing a lot traffic via Twitter, particularly for our Let’s Meet Again project, and of course Facebook and Instagram. We also have a weekly column, Living Through History, in The Echo. We are also about to take our exhibitions online. It is about being very clear with our messaging and looking at where people are and where they are accessing information.

MA: For more detail about #letsmeetagain visit www.cheltenhamtrust.org.uk

We look forward to seeing your bunting Laurie and Sara this is exactly the reason why we have chosen you as our BID business of the month, not only for your innovative virtual campaigns, fantastic customer service and communication skills but also for all the hard work you are doing to keep the food boxes topped up and delivered for the Glos Community Help Hub. Laurie tell us how you have managed to achieve this?

LB: This was about responding very quickly to a situation and recognising as a Trust what resources and assets we had and how they could be repurposed to meet what was required. We have catering staff as we deliver all our own catering now. When the pandemic first started, we were asked by Cheltenham Borough Council whether we could assist in any way getting some food parcels urgently to people that needed them. This was just before the Community Help Hub was set -up. They needed some meals which was not a problem at all because we had redeployed our catering team, prior to furlough, to convert supplies into meals that could be frozen ready for when we re-opened the venues – so we had six months’ worth of meals already frozen. We started a mini production and were able to produce food parcels to those most vulnerable. We started doing 10 or 15 meals a week but now do more than 100. We are also sending more than 30 food parcels every day.  We are fortunate to have a refrigerated van that also carries hot meals that we were able to repurpose.. The catering team are the most enthusiastic and driven team that anybody could ever wish for, they requested not to furlough as they wanted to be contributing to the community at this time.

MA: We cannot thank you enough for the services you are offering. Can I ask a few questions now about the businesses and The Trust’s relationship? What are the benefits of the Trust to town centre businesses?

LB: That’s a good question and I think for me it’s about recognising the strength of Cheltenham is about its partnership working. It is about recognising that none of the organisations on their own are going to be as successful as they can be, unless they work with others. The Trust has always positioned itself, or certainly over the last 12 months, as very much a key partner in what we can offer, whether that’s our venues that are in the heart of the town centre that lend themselves to hosting business type events, but also in as much as how we can help compliment the what Cheltenham has to offer. The Trust works with businesses, so that when people come to Cheltenham they see the town and what makes it special. It’s vital that  do that, especially now, if we are going to rebuild and recover as quickly as we can. We need to all be in this together with a collective responsibility.

MA: What would you say to those who consider The Trust to be elitist?

LB: That’s interesting because I can understand why you ask that but I have only been in post for a year and one of the key things that I was concerned to do when I first joined was to break down any barriers that would exclude anybody from The Trust in any of its venues because, for me, we are at the heart of the community. Yes, we have to generate income but we generate income to be able to do more for the community. So, our relationship with businesses is about partnership working and how can all improve the wellbeing of Cheltenham. I would hope that we have stopped any elitism that may have existed before, and I think this may have been more predominantly perceived at The Wilson. Prior to lockdown and the pandemic, The Wilson had been attracting visitors as we introduced a new cafe and lots of new events for different age groups and demographics. Prior to lockdown we were seeing very different types of audiences going into The Wilson, just enjoying a coffee and the environment whereas before I think it was maybe  largely frequented by people with an interest in heritage and art, whereas now it is offering something for everybody. One of the things we are planning to do which was missing is to create a fantastic community space to showcase community art and creativity and on the rise of this pandemic one of the things that both Sara and I are very keen to see is that we become the host venue to showcase how Cheltenham has coped so well during this time through its creativity, fantastic rainbows or its letters that have been written from younger people to older people in care homes and the bunting for the Lets Meet Again campaign.

MA: That takes us nicely onto the Let’s Meet Again Campaign. Please tell us about this new project, where people are being asked to produce bunting to adorn your buildings when we reopen?

SO: Funnily enough the campaign was sparked from Laurie, she is a very creative person. We were bouncing some ideas around and Laurie said “hey, what about bunting?” and it took off from there. Bunting is vibrant and colourful and has got that traditional element to it but also it is something that everyone can do. People are facing different situations, some are shielding, others are furloughed and families are home schooling their children. This is a way for everyone to be creative and to keep themselves active which is good for wellbeing. The concept behind #letsmeetagain was that it is a way of being able to engage with the community so that they can contribute and be part of it, and also how fantastic it would look across Cheltenham.

Our buildings are big so we have a big challenge to get a lot of bunting made, but it could then roll out across the whole of the town centre. What a fantastic sight that would be. Our aim is to have our venues, and Cheltenham, looking wonderful to welcome everyone back and to celebrate us being able to meet again. Ironically just a few days later Her Majesty The Queen gave her broadcast and said exactly that, that we will meet again!

We felt that #letsmeetagain summed up how people feel as they are currently not able to see family and friends. We are all looking forward to when we can meet again and enjoy that social interaction. That’s where the idea came from. We launched it last week and, as you saw, it has had lots of interest. We are very much looking forward to seeing the bunting starting to arrive.

LB: This campaign is about getting everybody in what have been quite dark times to focus on something that is very positive and to keep everybody focused on recovery because there is no doubt, we will recover from this. We are going to come out the other side but it is about getting everybody to almost grab that now by maybe sewing, knitting or crocheting or drawing. Whatever it happens to be, they are playing their part in what the future is going to look like. For me that is what this is about, and somebody needed to drive that and do something a bit different. We are getting some great support from some of the businesses as well who do want to work with us on this. We are all in this together.

For more detail on how to get involved in the #LetsMeetAgain campaign visit www.cheltenhamtrust.org.uk or email Sara on sara.oliver@cheltenhamtrust.org.uk