Category: Awards

How creating a culture of ‘the art of the possible’ has turned around the fortunes of The Cheltenham Trust

Cheltenham Trust CEO Laurie Bell’s innovative leadership approach to support the local community attracted the attention of the judging panel and led to her winning the Gloucestershire Live Business Person of the Year for 2023.

Under Laurie’s leadership the trust staged a beach party with a difference last year, setting up the Imperial Beach Club with real sand, beach huts and deck chairs, in Imperial Gardens for a summer staycation over the August Bank Holiday weekend. There are many more examples of firsts like this which have led to the trust’s recent success which we share from the winning entry in this article.

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  • Laurie Bell is CEO of The Cheltenham Trust, an independent and high-profile local charity.
  • As the lead provider of culture, heritage, sport and leisure in Cheltenham, the trust manages several iconic and contemporary venues in the town, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham Town Hall, The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum, Leisure at Cheltenham and the Prince of Wales stadium, the Heritage Café, and Garden Bar.
  • The trust is unique given its diverse services and its approach in providing a careful blend of culture, community and commercial to achieve financial sustainability and ongoing investment in the town’s heritage venues and significant visitor destinations.
  • In the past three years the trust has grown its annual turnover from £4.2m to £7.3m and its visitor footfall to around 1million a year.

The winning entry:

In 2019 the trust was financially unsustainable and technically insolvent. Laurie Bell joined the organisation at this time and steered the trust through the global pandemic and the ongoing challenge of the economic downturn taking it from surviving to thriving.

Laurie has embedded a culture of seizing opportunities to promote growth and to achieve a vision of a financially sustainable independent charity. She has developed Team Trust, an organisation where ‘the art of the possible’ is embraced. Under her leadership the trust has not only survived but has significantly grown contributing to the local and visitor economy, and to the health and wellbeing of the community.

Supporting new cafes (established as pop ups in 2020) at the pump room and Imperial Gardens, as CEO Laurie led a new community cultural initiative offering free and inclusive music, dance and entertainment that attracted thousands and generated significant income (the combined cafes and events generates c£1.2m pa). The new trust led cultural events align to the summer season, Race Week, Cheltenham’s festivals, Christmas season and significant historic dates and occasions. The new cafes and community events have become integral to the trust’s revised post-covid business model and to the future sustainability of the venues, enabling continued reinvestment in the town’s rich heritage.

The trust has transformed its reputation and profile attracting leading names such as Dame Judi Dench, Pam Ayres and Joan Collins to its venues.

Social media reach pre-covid of c300k rose to c1.8m and for the first time since its inception the trust launched a trust-wide membership loyalty scheme with more than 100 joiners in the first two months. The trust’s leadership promotes innovation, reimagining, and growth. Pre-covid annual income was c£4.2m. Three years on and income is c£7.3m and growth is projected as £10.5m within the next three years.

New life has been breathed into the town’s once almost derelict iconic heritage buildings and the cultural and free community events programme has resulted in popular visitor destinations that support the local and visitor economy.

The trust is a not-for-profit organisation and enables culture, heritage, entertainment, sport, and leisure to be accessible to all. In July 2022, the trust reopened the transformed Wilson Art Gallery and Museum with a programme of free events, exhibitions and activities showcasing the new community art gallery, vibrant arts café and artist studios, and newly refurbished galleries creating a new cultural hub and major visitor attraction for the town. Visitor footfall has grown from c60k in 2019 to c102k in the first year following reopening. Substantial grant funding (c£500k) has been secured to complete the next phase of refurbishment to transform the Victorian wing of the museum to create new and accessible galleries promoting the story of Cheltenham and bringing more of its rich history to life for everyone to enjoy. As a free venue it’s vital that history, education, and learning is inspiring, accessible and stimulating for all.

Enriching the lives of Cheltenham’s residents is at the heart of the trust and it focuses on the provision of achieving a balance of paid for events and activities with free, accessible, and inclusive events and activities that include hosting Cheltenham’s marking of significant national occasions. These have included the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations and official beacon lighting with a party in the park in 2022, which attracted more than 10,000 people and was the largest event in Gloucestershire; two American Retro Festivals – the first marking 80 years since the American GIs were based at the pump room; and hosting the Commonwealth Games Baton Relay in 2022.

In 2023, the trust hosted a two-day free celebration and party in the park for the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, which was attended by more than 12,500 people, and again was the largest event in Gloucestershire. People came together as a community to celebrate and watch the historic national event and concert on a big screen projected into Pittville Park. The Christmas lights switch at the pump room is now an established event and a leading festive date in the town’s annual calendar.

Making a real difference to Cheltenham and its communities and visitor economy; ensuring historic and cultural venues are relevant and continue to be so; seeking new opportunities and acting on them will help the trust to continue to grow and to enrich and improve the health and wellbeing of the local community.

Laurie said:

“Winning the award was significant recognition for The Cheltenham Trust and what it has strived to achieve as the guardian of much of Cheltenham’s heritage and cultural offer. It’s vital that the town’s iconic venues are relevant and accessed and that the trust can continue to grow and invest to support the town’s local and visitor economy and overall sense of place and community.

The award represents the commitment of a dedicated and enthusiastic team that believes in achieving the art of the possible.”


Gloucestershire Live Business Awards 2023 | Partner Randall & Payne logo