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The Business Magazine November 2023
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Community Trust is happy to be back: Happy Place Cheltenham

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For a charitable organisation that manages five of Cheltenham’s most prestigious face to face venues, the pandemic brought solvency and cashflow challenges that needed a quick solution.  Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham Town Hall, The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum, Leisure At Cheltenham, and The Prince of Wales Stadium are all managed by The Cheltenham Trust, creating happy places and events for Cheltenham residents and visitors alike. #HappyPlaceCheltenham

Laurie Bell, CEO of The Cheltenham Trust comments “When the first lockdown hit, our income stopped overnight and our cash flow stalled. We had very little financial reserve and more than 50% of our current income was pre-paid income for tickets to future events and venue hire. We were extremely vulnerable to requests for refunds, and our immediate thoughts and focus became how to remain solvent and manage through the crisis, repurposing, remobilising and recovering. It also gave us an opportunity to engage with our community in a new way, and we very much began to focus on what we were able to do, not on what we couldn’t do.”

Laurie BellDescribing the period as the most stressful, demanding and exhausting time the not-for-profit has ever been faced with, the team none-the-less remember fondly the inspiring, exciting and invigorating times that they experienced too. They pivoted the entire business model, establishing a successful new business with outdoor cafes at Pittville Pump Room and the Garden Bar, and Skillicorne Garden, as well as an outdoor facility at Leisure At, providing more than 50 exercise classes per week. The Trust delivered more than 4,000 food parcels and hot meals to vulnerable people in partnership with Gloucestershire Help Hub, and their live music events last summer supported more than 140,000 customers. Mental health and wellbeing also took centre stage, and the Trust became future focussed, encouraging positive outlook with their #letsmeetagain bunting campaign, asking local residents and lovers of the Trust to decorate colourful bunting to adorn their venues when they were able to reopen.

Laurie continues “To survive a crisis, any organisation has to be agile, flexible, work at a pace and be able to take opportunities. Our opportunity was to create outdoor spaces and develop a new business model at a time when our business operations were closed. Now that things are reopening, we are constantly gauging customer and visitor confidence, and communicating confidently to ensure we are moulding our services to customer demand.

Garden Bar Town HallWe have received strong demand for our venues, including couples looking to rearrange their weddings, corporates looking to book activities, audiences booking tickets, and even Christmas party enquiries. The high number of people attending the music events outside the Pump Room and Garden Bar highlights footfall is returning and the economy is re-boosting. That demand, and customer confidence suggests Cheltenham is already on the road to recovery.”

From day one the Trust has adopted a positive, can do approach, which has been mirrored and reflected by the community that has embraced the outdoor cafes, and fitness offer at Leisure at Cheltenham, as go to destinations, described as their ‘lifelines’ over the past year. When asked for her #HappyPlaceCheltenham, Laurie comments “Cheltenham has a lot to offer but it would take a lot to beat sitting with coffee and cake under the beautiful colonnade at the Heritage Café at Pittville Pump Room, looking out across Pittville Park, especially on a beautiful, warm, sunny day.” We couldn’t agree more!

Launched in conjunction with Cheltenham Borough Council, ‘Find Your Happy Place’ is engaging with the town’s business and hospitality owners to discover what they think makes Cheltenham such a thriving place to be, highlighting its exciting development prospects for the future to drive innovation and create significant employment opportunities in the area.

For more information on the #HappyPlaceCheltenham campaign and how to get involved please see Visit Cheltenham

 If you’re a business or organisation in the town and would like to access the asset pack and share your news & stories please visit the Marketing Cheltenham website

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Cheltenham’s campaign forms part of a wider programme of activity to support the high street and local businesses through the pandemic and has been supported by the national Reopening High Streets Safely Fund through the UK Government and European Regional Development Funding.

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