What success looks like at Wales Millennium Centre

Our July #supperconversation@ffresh was about “Building on true Welsh business success in the Arts and how we can do more of this”, with really informative and enthusiastic input from Bet Davies (Cultural Leader at the Centre) and Jonathon Poyner (Director).

In the context of success and our emerging “#supperconversation@ffresh” focus on appreciative inquiry, Wales Millennium Centre is a very significant success story for Wales.

Wales Millennium Centre is a very significant success story for Wales:

The Centre has clarity about “what it is famous for” and what it is good at, is rooted in Wales’ culture and context but reaches out not just in Wales, but across the UK and further afield. It is the home to eight other arts organisations, including WNO and BBC National Orchestra of Wales, which means that the Centre is essentially a cultural village, supporting about a 1000 employees on its 7.5 acre site.  It delivers quality and diverse productions as well as promoting Welsh productions. The Centre is also focused on moving towards becoming totally commercially sustainable in its own right and currently only about 19% of its annual budget is received as public subsidy. The Centre actively assists the development of talent and skills in our young people and communities, offering a host of learning opportunities for young and old over the years and hence contributing to the future of Wales and Welsh talent.

What does success look like for Wales Millennium Centre?

Their vision is: “Bringing the best of the world to Wales and showcasing the best of Wales to the world.”

Since opening, the Centre has presented an eclectic and interesting range of art forms, remaining true to its original vision of bringing the best of the world to Wales and showcasing the best of Wales to the world. In their first 10 years they have already established a track record of excellence and a reputation amongst artists and producers as one of the world’s leading centres for the performing arts.

Having been in business for almost 10 years, in terms of “number crunching”, success for the Wales Millennium Centre looks like this:

  • Over 4,100 quality and diverse theatre performances
  • Another 4,000 free performances by schools, colleges, community groups and emerging talent on the Glanfa stage
  • £100,000,000 ticket revenues in terms of sales
  • Total theatre attendees 3.37m
  • Total visitors 13.5million
  • Over 200,000 children and young people have participated in arts activity, and
  • Over 60,000 have slept at the Urdd Centre on site
  • Community work in the Centre’s own multi cultural square mile has grown exponentially too
  • 1000 jobs supported directly on site plus many more indirectly;
  • An impact on the Welsh economy of £50 million per annum
  • Impact spreads beyond South-East Wales, through the Centre’s food sourcing policies, whereby rural parts of Wales benefit too.

How do we know that others see the Centre as successful?

The Centre has achieved a myriad of awards for all different aspects of its work. The key ones (i.e. the ones that give peer recognition that acknowledges their excellence in the critical fields) are:

  1. RIBA Award (Wales) for their building and its  architecture,
  2. Investors in People Silver for their people (“Gain, Train and Retain world class people”), and
  3. ISO 14001 (Environment), the internationally accepted standard which has enabled the business to improve its environmental management, reducing waste and energy usage, in order to be a sustainable business that balances the social, environmental and financial aspects of a business and its impact.

They have also won many other awards including:

  • the BIFM UK Award for Sustainability and Environmental Impact
  • the financial PQP award
  • the Microsoft /accreditation award within their IT staff
  • Welsh Government’s own Leadership and Management Awards
  • Individuals have been awarded different accolades amongst them Chartered Manager of the Year (CMI) and the IoD’s Director (Charity) of the Year.

So not only do the numbers crunch really well, but a wide array of peers and organisations have recognised the success of so many different individual elements of the Centre as well as Wales Millennium Centre as a whole.

For the Centre success is also about changing lives, making dreams and creating memories:

Whether that success is for an individual employee, a local community group, a performer, a member of the audience or an individual young person this is so much part of the Centre’s mission and intention and success.

Below I have highlighted just a few stories about the success of people through the Centre and its activities.

Young People:

The Only Kids Aloud Chorus was first formed in 2011/2012 to be part of a chorus for Mahler’s 8th Symphony being presented by the Mariinsky Opera Company at Wales Millennium Centre. The children’s chorus went on to sing in St Petersburg and to be part of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.

Auditions were held for the 2013/2014 Chorus and over 700 children applied from whom the new chorus for 2014 was selected. The Only Kids Aloud Chorus 2014 then helped South Africa commemorate 20 years of democracy by flying to South Africa in April this year and performing in two sell-out concerts, alongside Cape Town Opera and Wales’ internationally renowned bass baritone, Bryn Terfel in Cape Town. These concerts formed part of the year-long celebrations to commemorate 20 years since the end of the Apartheid rule and freedom for the people of South Africa.  That historic visit saw 65 young people from across Wales perform a new commission by Welsh composer Paul Mealor, which included the words of Nelson Mandela’s favourite poem, Invictus, in front of an international audience.

You can see some of the young children (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7BLzoYtbdk) and hear them tell you how they just loved their opportunity to be part of Only Kids Aloud, to go to Cape Town and to share in such a celebration. This really is the kind of opportunity that dreams are made of and from which memories are created. It is very much central to “what success looks like” (alongside balancing the books) to the Wales Millennium Centre.

As two of the young Denbighshire choristers said, “This experience will remain in our memory forever.

“He is also more confident socially, due to being part of a group where he has something in common with the other children, and he now thinks of himself as having a talent, i.e. singing, whereas in the past his disability led to him thinking he was ‘rubbish’ at everything… and so we are very grateful to all of you who work so hard to give the children these wonderful opportunities” said the Mum of one Only Kids Aloud participant.


The Loo of the Year Awards and associated Attendant of the Year have been identifying the best in Britain since 1987 and are recognised as the standard setters for those who provide “away from home” facilities for staff, customers and visitors. The Centre has 1.5 million people through its doors annually and takes pride in the cleanliness and quality of its loos.

The loos in any big place such as the Centre are as essential as everything else. So it was with great pride that six of the cleaning team were present at a ceremony in Birmingham when the Centre and its team of cleaning attendants won “Loo of the Year” accolade, coming back with not one but four awards. Unlike other companies and organisations that only had the Manager or Director at the presentation lunch, the Centre had invited representatives of the whole team so that they all shared in the excitement, the celebration and knowledge of just how important their high standards in cleanliness are and their impact. This was then followed with a celebratory event in ffresh for all the team in January 2014, so that everyone could enjoy their success and share in the limelight. (The Awards won are: Platinum National Award Winner Category, Best Loo in the Entertainment Sector in the UK (Market Sector Award), Cleaning Attendants of the Year and National Category Winner.)

Leon Phibben the Centre’s then Cleaning Supervisor is particularly proud of the team’s achievement. “Success does not come by chance, simply because we are a comparatively new building. It’s because we place a high priority on giving all our visitors a first class customer experience. Winning these awards is a great accolade for our cleaning teams – without their efforts, always striving to be the best; I know we would never have achieved this UK wide recognition”. During Womex last year, when we welcomed over 5000 people every day from all over the world, the one thing we regularly heard was “How do you keep your toilets so clean?” The answer is simple – through team work, continual improvement and consistent hard work. We have a great team and they deserve to bask in the limelight, something normally restricted to stars on stage!”

The Community – Our Square Mile

Wales Millennium Centre is located in Butetown, the former Docks area, in the now regenerated Cardiff Bay.  From its status as a coal exporting world port, this area has one of the UK’s oldest multi-cultural communities. The Centre celebrates Cardiff and Wales as a community of diverse cultures and is engaged with a wide cross section of multi-cultural groups within its own square mile and beyond.  The aim is to unite communities through arts and culture, and create a true sense of belonging.

One of the Centre’s founding aims was to be a place for all ages, all backgrounds and interests, to enjoy and participate in the arts.  A greater focus for Community Engagement work has been given to the Centre’s square mile and amongst marginalised groups and communities.  This aligns well with Welsh Government priorities and great strides have been made in this area of work, making Wales Millennium Centre more relevant to people who may not have felt it was theirs to enjoy.  The Centre has focussed its efforts amongst targeted groups: BME communities, asylum seekers, recent immigrants and geographic areas of social deprivation in particular.

In the past 18 months the Centre has formed many successful partnerships and friendships with diverse communities, including the South Wales Sudanese Community, Wales Tamil Sangam, the Afro-Caribbean  and local Somaliland communities. Twice the Centre has hosted Tamil New Year and in October will celebrate Diwali. Classes in Tamil culture are held every other weekend at the Centre to help this new association to celebrate their own language and culture through the arts.  .

Equality of opportunity is top of mind in all that the Centre does, encouraging participation and access amongst people of all ages. For International Women’s Day this year the Centre hosted Women Making a Difference’s Summit in the Weston Studio.  Working with Women’s Workshop the Centre hosts their summer school for girls and young women, with the aim of increasing aspirations and encouraging self-confidence. Last year their summer school featured dance and fashion and culminated in a cat walk show presenting their designs to an audience which included family members. One Somalilander mother, unprompted, stood up, saying “Until now I had never realised this was a place for people like us.”

Another example of the centre and the arts encouraging cohesion and social integration was the spectacular finale of Refugee Week 2014 at the Centre which attracted over 7,000 people. This event featured dancers from the local Sudanese Community, whom the Centre has welcomed and encouraged to make the Centre theirs, by hosting dance sessions, culminating in public performances.

Community – Quaynotes Choir

The Centre also opens its doors daily for local school and community groups, providing a performance venue and fantastic ambience with the Glanfa stage. These performances also bring alive the Centre throughout the day, providing so much more than just a performance for visitors to enjoy and performers to perform. It gives many an exciting, confidence-building experience in which they can really revel in the joy of the shared musical adventure they are creating.

Quaynotes, a newly formed Bay Community Choir, enthusiastically performed its first ever gig in ffresh at our Supper Conversation in March, performed to great support on the Glanfa stage just before Easter and more recently they opened our July Supper Conversation in ffresh with a rousing performance that was just fab. http://cardiffquaynotes.wordpress.com

Quaynotes aims to involve local people who come together enjoying music as well as to build and strengthen community relationships and friendships amongst residents of Cardiff Bay and Cardiff and to support other local Community Groups, Charities and Businesses within Cardiff Bay. Positioned within the Centre’s “Square Mile” this is just one more example of a Community Group that is growing and benefiting from the Centre and its totally inclusive approach.

Transferable leadership lessons from the Centre’s success that can be applied to other ventures in Wales:

We could read a library of hefty tomes of academic writing about leadership but for me a model combining transactional and transformational leadership does the trick.

Transactional leaders have the ability to organise and manage people and resources to achieve the agreed corporate goals. They focus on a) setting goals b) monitoring performance c) giving feedback and d) developing careers. They are leading the “management of the present”.

Transformational leaders have a clear idea of where they want to go, are passionate and motivating to others. They are innovative and challenging. They create and communicate a vision, are intellectually stimulating, innovative and imaginative and treat people as individuals. They concentrate on a) creating a vision b) stimulating the environment and c) treating people as individual. They inspire and motivate and they are “creating the future”. (source: facet5)

From my unique perspective of chairing and project managing the Leading Wales Awards, over the 10 years there has been a vast amount of entries and conversations about leadership. For me as a result of this anecdotal and practical research, I’ve concluded that we are pretty good at transactional leadership in Wales i.e. leading the “management of the present”. Across the sectors we set goals, monitor performance, give feedback and support and encourage a lot of individuals in their progression through their careers.

However, I believe our real gap is in that of leadership that inspires, motivates, engages and helps “create the future”.

Now you could tell me: “that’s a load of fluffy nonsense Barbara – we need hard data, we need the books to balance and the numbers to crunch in the right way and that’s what really matters.”

I agree with that sentiment and fact – in any enterprise or organisation we do absolutely need all that transactional stuff 100% in place, we do indeed need to “lead the present” and do that well.

But frankly it is not enough on its own because if we only concentrate on the present – then what future will there be? To create a future whilst managing the present requires the transformational element of leadership as well – this is the aspect that builds trusted relationships, creates open and honest dialogue needed to unleash creative thinking and innovation, it’s the aspect of leadership that inspires and motivates and engages employees to give freely of their discretionary effort so that they are fully present in their working hours and role. Such employees understand how what they do contributes to achieving the big picture, they go the “extra mile”, they too care about fellow employees and customers, they want to give of their best and make a difference.

The Spring CIPD / Halogen Employee Outlook Survey (http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/survey-reports/employee-outlook-spring-2014.aspx) stated that only 35% of employees are engaged, 61% are neutral and 4% are disengaged.

What is employee engagement?

“Employee engagement is a workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being.”

Source: Engage for Success (Engage for Success is a voluntary movement committed to the belief that employee engagement is a better way to work) www.engageforsuccess.org

Why does employee engagement matter?

The UK has an “employee engagement” deficit together with a “productivity deficit” (Kenexa 2009) and I, like others believe absolutely that the two are linked. It is staggering to realise that if we could raise our engaged employees’ percentage to more like that of the Netherlands than we could raise the GDP by £25.8 billion (Kenexa 2009).

This is so not a load of fluffy nonsense – but is something we must rectify.

How do we engage, motivate, inspire? By being transformational leaders! Listening and conversing with Bet and Jonathon the other night, what comes over strongly is that the Centre aspires to have an embedded approach to leadership is literally both transactional and transformational.

At the Centre, they pay great attention to goals, monitoring, feedback and supporting individual career development and ALSO they are seeking to involve everyone in creating the future. They really get that inclusion is absolutely about treating everyone and every group as individuals and relating to their needs and treating them with respect and care. The Centre has a really clear vision “Bringing the best of the world to Wales and showcasing the best of Wales to the world”, which is ambitious and aspirational and yet clear and achievable. They are open to fresh ideas, concerned about the environment in every way and their impact in terms of both carbon footprint but also socially. Whether you are a young child, a local resident, a skilled and talented performer and musician or someone who wants to simply try out a supper conversation idea – you are welcomed warmly, looked after, your needs (from performances, to loos, to refreshments, to superb environment and total accessibility) are all catered for with enthusiasm by individuals who are all part of a great team.

That, I believe, is the lesson for other ventures (businesses and organisations) in Wales – have a look at just how the Centre’s leadership is at all levels, involves all staff and how it is aspiring to deliver in a manner that is both transactional and transformational and that will offer a blueprint to apply to your own team, business, organisation or community. It’s a blueprint for more Welsh success, I believe.

Thank you to Bet for all her help and input into this blog.

Bet Davies, one of Wales Millennium Centre’s team of Cultural Leaders, and Head of Public Relations was our lead contributor on Monday 21st July, with Jonathon Poyner (Director) contributing also. Bet has spent her entire career promoting the best of Wales, as a place to visit, (as Head of PR for the Wales Tourist Board), as a place to invest, live and work (as Director of Media and Communications at the WDA), and as a place where arts and culture are at the heart of the nation, (at Cardiff 2008 and subsequently the Centre).  She was officially honoured by the Japanese Government in 2003 for her work in promoting bilateral relations between Wales and Japan, both economic and cultural.

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