Monday, 27 June 2016

Tapestry finances - a cautionary tale?


The company which runs a permanent tapestry exhibition not far from the Scottish Borders has suffered significant financial losses over each of the last three financial years, and was forced to close the adjoining café at the end of 2015.

The latest set of accounts for Quaker Tapestry Ltd, of Kendal in Cumberland, may be of interest to the enthusiastic promoters of the controversial proposals to house the Great Tapestry of Scotland in Tweedbank or Galashiels at a cost of up to £6 million.

It is understood the business plan for the Borders venture, which critics claim simply does not stack up, continues to be worked on and scrutinised by the Scottish Government's Culture Department and by Scottish Borders Council officers and councillors.

The council was so carried away by the opportunity to take possession of the tapestry panels they ordered dozens of healthy trees to be chopped down at their selected site in Tweedbank before the scheme had received the necessary approvals. Now, it seems, the site may not be needed after all with an alternative vacant property in Galashiels town centre under consideration.

But it is to be hoped those driving the project forward carry out due diligence and ensure the venture is financially viable. Many people who wanted to see the Great Tapestry of Scotland have already attended touring exhibitions held throughout Scotland during the last three years which means forecasts of potential visitor numbers may have been exaggerated.

The operators of the Quaker Tapestry are facing serious financial issues after three successive years of losses. In 2015 total income amounted to just £186,927 while expenditure for the year stood at £218,959 leaving a shortfall of more than £30,000. The attraction lost similar sums in 2014 and 2013 even though income in 2013 was £216,753.

Work on the tapestry began in 1981 in Somerset, and over 4,000 people in 15 countries were involved in making the 77 embroidered panels depicting the history of the Quaker movement from its formation in 1652.

An appeal was launched in 1992 to provide for the housing and exhibition of the panels in Kendal's Friends meeting house. The tapestry has been on show there since 1994. The objectives - similar to those of the Great Tapestry - are to advance education and public benefit and to teach embroidery and allied skills.

The newly published 2015 accounts outline the challenges facing the trustees of the tapestry which enjoys charitable status.

A financial review states: "Income from admissions to and related shop sales at the Kendal exhibition centre was lower than 2014. Work is planned in 2016 to set up a new website and buy in specialist marketing expenditure in the hope of raising the profile of the Quaker Tapestry, with consequent improvement in visitor numbers and other activity".

The Kendal centre is open six days a week (Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm) with a £7 admission fee for adults. But last year admissions only yielded £9,564 compared to £11,614 in 2014.

Grants and donations dropped from £109,000 in 2013 to just £55,050 in 2015. Income from the café fell from £55,601 in 2014 to £47,035 last year.

The Trustees state: "The café was an important part of attracting visitors to the exhibition. Throughout 2015 the café remained a financial challenge, partly due to unpredictable visitor numbers which meant at times that it was overstaffed.

"Trustees and staff worked together throughout the year to monitor café income and expenditure and to find ways to improve the footfall. But despite this, the Trustees made the difficult decision in September to close the café at the end of the year".

If it comes to fruition, the Borders project will be on a much larger scale than the Kendal operation. Therefore the potential for much larger financial losses may well be built into the project. The moral of this story: Proceed with Caution.

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