Restructuring The Nursery – Part 1

Restructuring The Nursery – Part 1

The Nursery is 11 this year, and for our birthday we are getting a restructure.   

For a while now, Jules and I have come to the conclusion that The Nursery would benefit from some de-centralising and that, in the past, it has been a bit too much at the mercy of outside factors. Ultimately, a not very sustainable setup. What happens if one of us is hit by a bus? What has our organic growth over the years meant for diversity and inclusivity? Shouldn’t we have more sturdy financial and comms models? 

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s pretty amazing what we have managed to achieve in these past 11 years. At one point we even had everything we had ever wanted for The Nursery – a steady income through our training centre, and a very nicely equipped little black box theatre in a former dentist’s office (it’s in storage at the minute, ready to go for the next space!), where all kinds of exciting, hilarious and beautiful shows took to the stage. 

This is to no small degree thanks to some of the most passionate people I have ever worked with, who helped The Nursery to continue to exist and grow, working incredibly hard as volunteers or for, well, a tiny arts charity worth’s of remuneration. 

Arch 61 in Southwark, our first ever home

When Jules and I started the company all those years ago, not in our wildest dreams did we imagine the Nursery to be what it is today. We ended up in charge back then, not because we wanted to, but just because the cookie crumbled that way. We never set out or trained to be directors/managers, and although you learn quickly when the situation demands it, we still had to take things one step at a time, making mistakes and getting things (somewhat) right as we went along. And now we’re here, and it’s time for change.

We would have started restructuring much sooner if it hadn’t been for a series of events that were wholly out of our control (losing the theatre and our training centres), not to mention the pandemic. Then it was all hands on deck to change course and find a way to adapt the thing that we love and do best for the online space.

Online Tuesday Jam – photo: Jonah Fazel

And amazingly, people embraced it. So we were able to support the wonderful teachers who work with us, and the community became a more international one, and we didn’t go under (thanks to your good selves, the Arts Council and the London Community Response Fund). But also the exact thing happened that a restructure would probably have avoided – Jules was unable to continue with his role due to health reasons, and had to step back from his Artistic Director position in May. You might not have noticed much as the team was amazing in having his back, and we did the arguably kindest thing by giving him time and space to get a bit better and reflect during a very difficult period. I’m very glad that he has come back to teaching and the organisation of shows and panels, but it’s sad and concerning that it had to come to this in the first place.

Who, what, how, when

In other words, it had been time to restructure for a while and now we have started. So, what does this look like?

I have asked people to help me by being part of a restructuring committee, which will start from scratch. We are meeting every Wednesday until nearly Christmas, and we will be looking at getting the Nursery on a more solid footing, limiting the coincidence factor that has characterised some of the Nursery’s past. We will, amongst other things, be looking to improve:

  • Our business and financial model – what is The Nursery and what do we want to do? Why do people enjoy coming to The Nursery? How can we get to a sturdy business/financial model without being at the mercy of outside factors (the coincidental nature of finding buildings to work from, for instance)? 
  • Our communications, both externally and internally. We have always aimed to do the best we could, being a small charity with limited resources, and we have tried very much to keep everyone, internally and externally, informed and involved, but things sadly fall by the wayside sometimes. Going forward, we’re going to be clearer, more transparent and more accountable. 
  • Our company structure – the reason for which… well, see above. But it has also become clear that The Nursery needs a team of empowered, core positions that have firm boundaries to move forward. Positions that carry the responsibility for specific sides of the company, with a few overarching roles to keep everyone accountable.   
  • Diversity and inclusivity – over the years, the Nursery has had a ‘hey, we’re a friendly bunch, come join!’-attitude, which is nice, but not enough. We need to be proactive in this respect. We have already made strides here – we have been a female-led company with a diverse senior management team and pool of teachers; we have provided diversity training for staff and teachers, created the Jason Chin scholarship, provided Women’s and Queer Improv workshops, made sure our premises were accessible and inclusive (even in slightly run-down 70s office buildings), provided free Jam sessions for the community and coached diverse House Teams. With their passion and drive, the team, past and present, has been instrumental in establishing many of these things. Moving forward we want this to become an integral part of The Nursery’s DNA, for instance by revisiting our hiring and audition processes, evaluating our Board of Directors, expanding our scholarship scheme, seeking partnerships and engaging a Diversity and Inclusivity mentor.
Former House Team Qwench, members of which are now part of current House Team Something Qwenching

So we’re rolling up our sleeves and are going to work. 

Now, the people who could and wanted to get involved with the committee are people with long-standing connections to the company, and although we obviously are looking to do the best job we can, we certainly have blind spots and are lacking areas of expertise. We therefore need, and are currently actively seeking, outside help. We are inviting business minds, runners of improv companies, HR-whizzes, communications and diversity experts and others to help us be the best company we can.     

And we would also like to invite your help as well.

How? Well, there are a number of ways to get involved:

  • First, there is a survey, with a variety of questions about The Nursery. It will help us much to get a better understanding of, for instance, how you see The Nursery, what we’ve been doing right and wrong, and what the future of an improv company may look like in your eyes. There is also a section where you can tell us if you have a field of expertise that we lack and you would be willing to spend time with us on (e.g. business models, data gathering, comms, HR, to name a few). 
  • Then you can also put yourself forward to join the steering committee (which meets every Wednesday from 3-4.30pm until mid-December), for as many or as few sessions as you can/want. The more brains with different relationships to the organisation, the merrier. Please send an email to judith@thenurserytheatre.com (subject: Nursery committee) to express your interest and we will get back to you with a few questions.   
  • And finally we will be holding a Zoom Town Hall meeting on the 18th of September, 1-3pm BST, where we will be talking more about The Nursery and the future in an open and safe space where all are welcome. Please email judith@thenurserytheatre.com (subject: Nursery Town Hall September) to register, and some more details will follow w/c 7th of September.

All that is left to say for now is a big Thank You for making it this far through this long read (and ‘part 1’ does indeed mean there will be more – and they will most likely be as long, who am I kidding). And thank you also if you can and want to be involved in making The Nursery future-proof for the next 11 years and beyond. 

As always, please do not hesitate to get in touch with any query or concern – it is all very much appreciated. 

Judith
Judith
judith@thenurserytheatre.com
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