Third Sector Excellence Awards: Public Sector Partnership

Battersea Arts Centre and Wandsworth Council turned a sour relationship into a partnership of equals.

Battersea Arts Centre
Battersea Arts Centre

Criteria:
For an agreement between a voluntary sector organisation and a public sector agency that has demonstrated strong mutual benefits

Judging panel:
Simon Blake, chief executive, Brook
John Graham, finance director, Royal British Legion
Deborah Scott, corporate partnerships executive, RNIB

Finalists:
Battersea Arts Centre and Wandsworth Council
Gloucestershire Rural Community Council Village Agents
MacIntyre and Derbyshire County Council

Winner: Battersea Arts Centre and Wandsworth Council
For 27 years, Wandsworth Council in south London had given the Battersea Arts Centre a series of short leases on its premises, the old town hall dating from the time when Battersea was a separate borough.

Relations were not always good, and at the beginning of 2007 they reached a new low: the two organisations had barely communicated for seven months, and the council was proposing budget cuts that could result in the closure of the centre.

But news of the possible closure brought such an outcry from local people, the theatre world and the media that the two sides, using the principles of the local Compact, were forced to start talking.

What followed, according to the centre's entry for this award, was "an extraordinary turnaround of understanding between the two parties".

The entry said: "Wandsworth realised BAC's closure would have a devastating impact on the cultural vibrancy, education provision and economy of the borough. "We realised that in order to become an equal partner with Wandsworth Council, we had to prove we were an economically viable enterprise. So we developed a five-point business plan that set us on a long journey of growth."

Three council representatives were added to the BAC board, and by March this year a new 125-year lease had been signed and the management and maintenance of the building handed to BAC. This allowed it to launch a fundraising drive to restore and develop the building. BAC has an annual programme of more than 1,000 performances and arts events and a ground-breaking access programme for disabled people.

John Graham, one of the judges, said: "This was excellent. The centre now gives strategic advice to the council's cultural policy partnership, with mutual benefit."

Deborah Scott, who also judged the award, said: "Here was strong success, and the Compact was crucial in improving the partnership."

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