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Ormskirk arts centre grows after Boost support

The Chapel Ormskirk 2023 web

An independently run arts centre in Ormskirk has raised its profile and added new services with the help of strategic advice through Boost; Lancashire’s Business Growth Hub, and now sets its sights on consistent year-on-year growth.

Ian Brownbill, who has a background in music and 25 years’ experience working as a director in the arts, established The Chapel Ormskirk Limited in December 2019 with business partner Amanda Roue. They took over the lease of the 200-year-old former chapel and management of its art gallery and café which was previously operated by West Lancashire Borough Council.

They then forged a working partnership with Mr Thompson’s Bakery, a local bakery that provides baked goods for the café and has supported The Chapel since the beginning of the venture. Ruth Brownbill also joined the business as a third shareholder and is responsible for developing the conferences and corporate events and among other things is helping to develop the venue's potential as an entertainment venue. The café now includes a licenced bar and small stage for live entertainment. As well as hosting creative exhibitions, The Chapel’s gallery provides a flexible space for a variety of events. With the inclusion of a large studio on the first floor the venue is now set up to host corporate events, live performances and private hire. The team at The Chapel has also created office space to support other local businesses in the creative sector.

This currently includes the comedy agency, ‘A Rush of Laughter’ with plans in the pipeline to accommodate a travel agency seeking to attract more visitors to the area. This brings the number of people, including employees, that work at The Chapel to 11. Ian first heard about Boost after seeking support and direction from West Lancashire Borough Council’s Business Engagement Team, when securing the lease for the chapel and looking to raise the profile of the venue.

Through their introduction, he connected with Boost business adviser Sue Denver who established the business’ needs and how best to support it. Sue introduced Ian to Boost’s Growth Mentoring programme. They were matched with mentor Tony Openshaw, a specialist in marketing and business planning and joined Boost’s mentoring programme in September 2022. Tony helped them to create a marketing action plan and lean business plan to help focus their attention on marketing the venue and on wider business planning to address the several different facets to their business, all of which have the potential for growth.

Tony said: “The business needed to raise its profile both online and offline, to bring in new customers and increase their footfall. The focus of this was two-fold, firstly to improve the website, by rewriting content, improving the layout, and to focus on events and key messages. The second objective was to increase social media presence with regular posting on social media channels.” Boost is Lancashire's Business Growth Hub and is led by Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire LEP. It is supported by funding from Lancashire County Council, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. As a funded business support service, Boost helps Lancashire business owners and leaders navigate the local, regional and national public and private sector business support landscape, to find the right support for their business. Boost also delivers a number of funded programmes for start-up, established and fast-growing businesses. With the leadership team’s time spent mainly working on the business, capacity was also an issue at The Chapel.

Tony approached the UpSkilling Lancashire Project via Edge Hill University which resulted in two marketing students taking work placements to help implement the strategies identified in the marketing action plan. The lean business plan devised by Tony helped to identify the priorities for the business, including its vision, identity and metrics. The plan aims to increase The Chapel’s turnover by 30 percent year-on-year for the next three years. After the Boost Growth Mentoring Programme finished in March 2023, The Chapel joined Edge Hill University’s funded Innovation Sprint Programme, which provides SMEs with academic and business support to help address challenges and maximise business opportunities. Ian added: “The mentoring was considered and thoughtful support.

Tony was a great listener and very constructive in his thinking and advice. Edge Hill’s Sprint programme then provided more intense scrutiny to our plans. This has really helped us to focus on the business and when to say no!” Through Boost, The Chapel also connected with Access 2 Finance Lancashire. Through local funding and Arts Council grants, Ian hopes to invest further into the businesses to get the best out of the facility, including carrying out much-needed structural work to the heritage building. They will also establish a separate Community Interest Company to manage the arts and socially engaged projects at The Chapel.

Ian added: “My aim is to get The Chapel recognised as an important, leading small arts facility, that supports the local community, and Ormskirk as a developing university and historic market town. “Seeking support from Boost was a no brainer. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Receiving mentoring is a great opportunity to gain helpful feedback and guidance from another pair of eyes and ears to evaluate what you are doing. Through Tony and Sue’s guidance we also gained access to other areas of support that we would have otherwise not known about.” 

Pictured above, Ian Brownbill with Boost mentor Tony Openshaw going over The Chapel - Ormskirk's business plans during a mentoring session.

Boost is helping Lancashire businesses. We have a range of funded support programmes and a team of business advisers you can talk to. To speak to someone from the Growth Hub about business support, contact Boost online or call 0800 488 0057.

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