Q&A with Sandra Bruce-Gordon

Eleanor Mills, 13.07.2016
How a trust rescued two cultural venues in Harrow
Harrow Arts Centre and Headstone Manor and Museum are due to pass from Harrow Council to a new charitable trust, Cultura London, later this month.

The council had announced the closure of both sites after it was no longer able to afford their annual £500,000 subsidy, but following a petition calling for their rescue signed by 18,000 people, a group of arts professionals set up Cultura London and put forward a sustainable business model for the sites to safeguard their future.

They plan to launch a £17m redevelopment campaign to enhance and expand Harrow Arts Centre, and will also oversee the reopening of Headstone Manor and Museum after securing a £3.6m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Sandra Bruce-Gordon, the chief executive of Cultura London, tells Museums Journal how and why the new governance model came about.

Why are Harrow Arts Centre and Headstone Manor and Museum being taken overby the charitable trust Cultura London?

In November 2014 Harrow Council Cabinet agreed to explore governance options for the sites, following a threatened closure that led to a staggering 18,000 signatures demanding that these cultural venues be kept open.
Cultura London was incorporated as a private limited company in August 2015 and received charitable status in December of the same year. As a company we are hugely proud that the local community and Harrow Council have put their trust in us to keep the services going and secure a sustainable future.
The business plan for Cultura London was drawn up following a feasibility study into future options and consultation with service users. The innovative plans were the brainchild of staff working in key positions at the venues and Harrow Music Service, which we are also taking over.
Following rigorous examination of our plans, Harrow Council, in January of this year, agreed to pass the services to Cultura London to ensure they have a long-term future.

What does this mean for the future of these organisations?
For a long time now I have felt that heritage and arts do not get the support needed within a local authority, with the main focuses for councils, albeit necessarily so, being social services and education. So how do we keep cultural treasures safe for future generations?

I believe that transferring the services to Cultura London provides an answer. Cultura London has a board of skilled practitioners in heritage, arts and music, providing much needed specialist expertise. But most of all the charity is being run as a business. The commercial elements that will be delivered will be run through the charity’s subsidiary trading company.

Alongside the building of an independent cinema at Harrow Arts Centre, there will be development of a catering offer at each site bringing in a significant new revenue stream. The new cinema, catering facilities and more studio spaces will contribute enormously to the success of the whole venture, helping to fund further elements of the project.
What will the £17m redevelopment entail? And how will it be funded?

We will build a two-screen cinema followed by the restoration and renovation of the Grade-II* listed Elliott Hall. When that is complete we will build a new 600 seat theatre and improve existing spaces for our users.

Harrow Council has given us a grant of £1m toward the cinema build. Other funding will come via foundation memberships, public donations, philanthropic gifts and grants.   

How will Harrow move forward and work with other arts centres and museums across London in the future?

The charity does not believe in a one size fits all approach to culture, but we do believe that we can help other local authorities to determine a future for their services outside of local government control.
Sandra Bruce-Gordon is the chief executive of Cultura London. Further information about Cultura London can be found at www.culturalondon.uk.


The article incorrectly stated that the transfer to trust had already taken place. The transfer date has been changed to the end of July, and the article has been edited to reflect this.


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Bob Watson
14.07.2016, 01:17
If the transfer to CL did take place last month it's news to me. So far as I know the latest proposed date for the transfer is at the end of this month (July 2016) but I'll believe it when I see it. It's been slipping by a month each month for a while now.
(Bob Watson, Chairman, Friends of Harrow Museum)
Geraldine Kendall
Staff Writer and Researcher, Museums Association
14.07.2016, 09:19
Hi Bob,

Thanks for letting us know, we were unaware the date of the transfer had changed - I'll update the article to correct this.