In the face of Covid pressures, the commercial models underpinning Mansfield’s cultural venues needed deep interrogation. But balancing the books couldn’t come at the expense of the service’s core purpose

A challenging future for Mansfield’s cultural institutions

Mansfield is a small town within one of the most deprived areas in England. The local museum (Mansfield Museum) and theatre (Mansfield Palace Theatre) are both run by Mansfield District Council (MDC)’s Culture Services. Prior to Covid-19, this meant a reasonable sense of security.

With the onset of the pandemic, however, MDC recognised that the model for cultural provision might need to significantly change. A real shift in focus was required, based on future demand and self-sufficiency.

This work was done in tandem to a new service plan which positioned the role of cultural services as addressing health and wellbeing for local people.

We had previously worked with Mansfield Museum to define the organisation’s cause. This had represented a turning point for the service, demonstrating its commitment to its audiences and offering a stronger sense of purpose and clarity of direction.

The council asked Morris Hargreaves McIntyre to carry out a resilience, revenue and growth review of its cultural services and identify strategies that would secure a more self-reliant model for culture in the town, while retaining their purpose and clarity of vision.

A research-driven profile of Mansfield’s cultural needs

MHM’s review included a detailed situational analysis of both the Museum and the Palace Theatre. As part of our desk research we examined finances, booking and visit figures, bar and shop revenue and much more. Importantly, we examined all of these in correlation with one another.

The situational analysis revealed:

  • A lack of consistency between the most subsidised theatre performances and the shows that aligned most closely with the service’s cause
  • Scope to increase profitability in some performances
  • Scope to significantly increase secondary spend in both venues

Ultimately, it exposed weaknesses in the business model, operations and income streams that represented a long-term challenge to the service.

We then turned our attention to the audience. Using existing data such as booking surveys, as well as our own online focus groups and a large-scale community study, we collected responses from hundreds of people living in Mansfield and the surrounding area.

The audience research revealed:

  • A significant core of highly-engaged visitors whose frequent visits inflated the real number of people coming to the museum
  • A missing sense of community ownership of the cultural offer
  • Opportunities to broaden market appeal with new events
  • Opportunities to increase brand affinity with both venues
  • Opportunities to redevelop the social spaces
  • Opportunities for the operation and brand of the two organisations to be paired

Audience-focused future-proofing

We gave MDC a raft of specific, actionable, audience-focused solutions that would mitigate the challenges we’d found, while maintaining commitment to the service’s cause.

Our recommendations covered brand alignment, programming, exhibitions and events, ticketing, secondary spend, and audience loyalty.

For the Theatre, we proposed strategies that would increase the quality of the programming on offer and focus subsidy on the shows and activities that got to the heart of the service’s cause.

For the Museum, we looked at ways to inject a bit of love into the community’s mindset and broaden the museum’s value in their cultural lives.

Underpinning our strategies was Culture Segments – our psychographic analysis of Mansfield’s potential audience, which MDC could use to shape marketing messages, retail offers, events and pricing.

MDC has moved at rapid pace in response to the feedback.

A restructure has taken place to better reflect the needs of the service and create more synergy between the Museum and Theatre, sharing services such as catering and security.

The Cultural Service has launched a new visual identity which connects the Theatre and Museum with the council’s corporate identity.

Image credit: Mansfield District Council

MDC has also launched a volunteer programme, a pricing review, integrated retail offer, free membership scheme, and fee-paying museum events; programming has been overhauled and dark days reduced; opening times between the two venues are now aligned, and a new brochure promotes the whole service and the new brand.

All of which is creating a stronger and more resilient cultural offer across the Theatre and Museum for the people of Mansfield.