Barnsley Choreographer gains Skills Bank support and transforms business

Barnsley Choreographer gains Skills Bank support and transforms business

Barnsley-based artist Gary Clarke has benefited from a unique bespoke programme of training through South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority’s (SYMCA) Skills Bank, which has led to him being able to transform his business model for future growth.

Gary, who has over 20 years’ experience as a freelance choreographer, hails from Grimethorpe in Barnsley which was the source of his inspiration for dance productions such as Coal and Wasteland, based on working class people in coalfield communities.

When Covid-19 hit, like the majority of artists, Gary found his business was in a vulnerable position, as he was unable to work and put on any productions.  He recognised the need to futureproof his business and he also realised his limits and the gaps in his own knowledge of running a business in areas where he’d always brought experts and other freelancers in to help him.   

Gary was successful in securing a Bounceback Grant through Barnsley Council designed to help artists to bounce back after Covid-19. Following this he was put in touch with SYMCA’s Project Director for Arts, Culture & Heritage, Kate Brindley, who signposted Gary to Skills Bank, where she felt he could gain the knowledge he needed to expand his business.

Gary realised that he didn’t need a standard training course, but rather bespoke tailored one-on-one training with experts in a number of fields, including business planning, finance, marketing and fundraising strategy.    

Gary Clarke, owner of the Gary Clarke Company, explains: “My old business model was fragile as I was working on short term temporary productions with limited funding based on securing small grants.  I had a lot of time to think during the Covid lockdowns and I knew that I needed the skills so I could build my business into a National Portfolio Organisation. This would mean I could secure long term funding from the Arts Council and create bigger productions and start employing people.”

Gary had already secured some Arts Council funding for him to work with some experts, but the Skills Bank funding would give Gary the extra days he needed with these specialists to be able to develop his business in some depth, for example by writing a business plan, creating a marketing plan, managing his own finances and developing a funding strategy.  Gary was successful in securing Skills Bank funding and feels very much that his story could be inspiration for other freelance artists in the region who could follow the same route to enable them to grow their businesses.

Gary spent several months undertaking Skills Bank training with many different experts and this culminated with him changing his business from being a sole trader to a limited company.  Gary is set to become the CEO of the business, which is based at Barnsley Civic Theatre, and is in the process of appointing a board of Directors, who will be handpicked from the business and arts sectors, to support its growth and strategic direction.

Kate Brindley, Project Director for Arts, Culture & Heritage said: “Artists, like Gary, can really benefit from Skills Bank as the bespoke training can help arts, culture and heritage businesses to upskill and become more resilient.  It is fantastic to see what Gary has achieved and hopefully this will inspire other artists in South Yorkshire to seek help to grow their businesses.”

Gary applied to be a National Portfolio Organisation for the Arts Council and was successful, which means he will receive funding to deliver productions over the next three years.  Gary has written a new business plan and, once the funding is received, he will be able to employ a full time producer.

Gary Clarke adds: “The Skills Bank training has grown my confidence and now I can talk about my business in a much more professional way, as I really understand it.  My whole ethos is about putting working class culture on the stage and making the theatre a place that is accessible by people from all backgrounds and communities.  Thanks to the Arts Council funding and training from Skills Bank, we are now a business with a long term future. We can take our Wasteland production on tour on a national basis next year and we are looking to create more jobs in South Yorkshire in the future.”

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Skills Bank provides employers across South Yorkshire with access to high quality training and funding to support skills training that will enable them to develop their business.  Skills Bank is part of South Yorkshire Growth Hub, a service which exists to help businesses to find the best possible support to grow, whether that is investment in Skills and Training, access to finance options, support with innovation or export or even helping new businesses to get off the ground.

South Yorkshire Growth Hub Skills Advisors are available across the region to support and assist businesses with their needs. The Growth Hub supports the aims of the South Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership to create jobs and drive economic growth by providing local businesses with the tools they need to succeed. The Skills Bank Programme has been extended until 2025 by the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority.  The extension is in recognition of the needs of local businesses and as part of the support to boost South Yorkshire’s post pandemic recovery and renewal.

For details of support for business growth available in South Yorkshire, visit the South Yorkshire Growth Hub

For information about the Gary Clarke Company and its tour visit

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To find out more about Skills Bank plus other schemes and funding options to support regional skills development, please contact one of our Skills Advisors. 

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