As a theatre-lover since primary school, Simon Hughes decided to get involved with Bubble as a practical way to support theatre activities in his local community. After a successful 13-year tenure, he steps down from the Bubble Board of Trustees and hands the role of Chair over to Cedric K. Ntumba. Watch (or read below) our farewell vlog interview with Simon, where he shares some stories from his Bubble adventure and insight into trusteeship.
“My time at the Bubble has been a very rich experience. It’s been a very varied experience. It’s been a demanding role, a challenging role, but it’s been a very rewarding role, and it’s had its really difficult times and its really beautiful times. Although with some sleepless nights along the way.
The culture of the Bubble has in one sense remained constant, and in one sense has fundamentally changed. The thing that hasn’t changed; our culture is about engaging the community with theatre – particularly those people for whom theatre isn’t their original, natural home. Sharing the benefit of participation with them. Engaging them in that process. The thing that has changed; it was a male-led organisation. We are now a much more equally led organisation. So, it’s not a top-down organisation in the way that it was. We have two co-equal chief executives. They’re both young, they’re both female. We have a female company, a female staff team, we have a much more racially mixed and diverse staff team. The culture has become much more shared responsibility, shared decision-making, shared planning and that’s appropriate for the age, and right, to engage people. I think it’s more sensitive as an organisation. I think it’s more understanding of the fact that we need to be reflective – both at board level, at staff level, and our freelancers – of the communities we serve.
The Bubble is a small company, we have a half a million-pound turnover at the moment, and we have a small staff team. In many ways, that puts more responsibility on trustees than a bigger organisation. So small organisations are very precious, and they need a bit more love and care and attention than the big ones.
I have several very strong Bubble memories. The staff team have just presented me with a wonderful book of photographs, reminding me of many of those events over the years which is just lovely, and I will treasure very much. One of the lovely, lovely memories was we did a Christmastime pantomime and reading here in the room behind me which was not acted but was read by the team – by trustees and by members of the company and so on. It was just the most…. rolling round with laughter, enjoying the fun, being together, it was a big family Christmas theatrical event together – like, perhaps, people used to do in big families in the past. It was just lovely.
Looking back, the only regret I think I have; I would’ve liked to have found one or two or three long term serious big donors, who could’ve secured the Bubble, irrespective of what money came from the Arts Council for England, the Greater London Authority, the Mayor of London, the local councils or whatever. I’ve still got one person I’m hoping to talk to, and persuade, in the near future, even though technically it’s no longer my responsibility.
Looking ahead, I think the biggest challenge for my successor and his team is to give us a better financial security for the medium-long term. And anybody who’s watching this, if you want to write your legacy now, write your will now or give that spare cash that you don’t want the government to have – and of course giving it to charity, gift aided and things – I mean the Bubble is a brilliant place to give any spare cash that you have or any spare funding that you have, and it will be well used.
The new chair, he and I have met and had long conversations as a sort of handover which I hope has been helpful. I come with knowledge of this community, he doesn’t live in this community, and therefore one of the things I wanted to share with him was my knowledge of the history of the Bubble and then answer his questions that he’s naturally had about funding and finance and structure. My one bit of advice would be: collect the wisdom and the ideas from the staff team and from the other board members as quickly as possible, to get the maximum pool in which he can fish, or the Bubble can fish, for ideas. Good boards, good leadership is not one person leading it and saying, “this is the way we go and you all follow”. Good leadership is making sure that you draw on the skills and experience and views of your trustee team. And make sure that when you make decisions, you’ve taken into account their thoughts, their ideas, their aspirations, their ambitions, their concerns. And one thing he won’t need my advice on – because he’ll do it anyway – don’t be afraid to knock on any doors or pick up the phone to anybody who you think might be able and willing to help us.
We’ve had challenging times financially, we’ve had challenging times during Covid, we’ve had challenging times when we had to change from somebody who’d been running the company for thirty years to his successors. But we’ve managed to keep the board united in all that time. I’ve learned that externally recruited boards, properly appointed boards and then regularly engaged boards are the way to have a successful board.
I love the Bubble very much and I think it’s had a great fifty years. The fundamental motivation to be a company that uses theatre to help people get to know themselves better, to be part of the community better, to relate to their neighbours/their friends/their families better and to give them that self-confidence; that’s absolutely what it’s all about and why I’ve loved being part of it and will not disappear as a supporter in the days ahead.”