College charity loses £443,000 after concert ticket sales flop

College charity loses £443,000 after concert ticket sales flop

Alesha Dixon and McFly performed at the fundraiser but it only sold 3,000 tickets

Hillcroft College was established in 1921 to help disadvantaged women

Principal June Ireton has been at the college since 1996 but has not returned calls asking about the loss

First published in News by

A college charity has lost £443,000 after a bank holiday concert, with A-list headliners McFly and Alesha Dixon, flopped due to poor ticket sales.

Hillcroft College, which is listed on the Charity Commission’s website, had hoped to make a £200,000 profit from the Summer Live event at Sandown Park on August 28.

But a Surrey Comet investigation has uncovered the charity spent more than £500,000 securing the concert, but only made £64,045 from ticket sales.

The college had anticipated a 14,000-strong crowd, but only sold 3,000 tickets and failed to raise any corporate sponsorship. In June, head of development Stacey Morgan was quoted saying the college was “teetering on bankruptcy on this”, and would be in trouble if not enough people bought tickets.

The college, which is set in a Grade II listed Victorian mansion in leafy South Bank, Surbiton, is largely funded by the Government’s Skills Funding Agency, but also survives on funding from private donors and tax-giving.

According to its 2009 accounts, it had a £2.3m income in 2008-09 and held £5.8m in reserves.

Principal June Ireton had not returned our calls before this newspaper went to press.

Kingston and Surbiton MP Edward Davey, who is one of the charity’s patrons – but did not help plan the concert – said questions needed to be asked.

The Charity Commission said it was considering the concerns raised.

Last month, the college advertised for a new chair of its governing council, seeking candidates with fundraising and PR experience.

Hillcroft College shocked the music world when it secured contracts for the top artists including Tinchy Stryder and Basshunter in just six weeks.

The event, which saw big names including Sugababes and N-Dubz turned away, was designed to raise urgent funds to fix the leaking roof, improve disabled access and carry out essential maintenance.

The idea was spurred on by the collapse of £13m of Learning and Skills Council funding.

Former Kingston mayor Ian McDonald said the concert was originally planned jointly with his homelessness charity, but the college later decided to go it alone.

He claimed organisers failed to carry out due diligence and risk reduction, did not market the concert properly and failed to respond to requests to look over their figures.

He said: “It was a project that should have brought in a lot of money, but if you get a project that’s hijacked by people who don’t know what they are doing this is what happens.

“It’s sad, and people have to ask questions about who organised it.”

David Clarke, of Exclusive Events, brought in as event managers, said the college should have advertised the event much earlier.

He said: “We weren’t in control of when certain things went out. For example, an event like this would need at least eight months, if not a year, to promote, and six to seven months to sell tickets – not two months.

“This was mentioned to them, but because of the infrastructure in the college, I suppose they had certain protocol they had to follow.

“They had great artists, great events and a great venue, it was just the timing.”

In a letter outlining the loss, the college’s director of corporate services, Frances Marsden, said no public funding from the Government was used.

She said: “The concert was successful as you reported in your article in the Surrey Comet in September.

“It had a number of benefits, including raising the profile of the college to a wide range of people, communities and organisations.

“However, the college is understandably disappointed it incurred a financial loss.”

The college teaches 600 adult women, has 41 staff and was judged good when last inspected by the The Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) in November 2006.

It offers courses in business enterprise and management, access to higher education, information technology (IT) and preparation for life and work.

One of its patrons is Dr Floella Benjamin, a former children’s TV presenter turned House of Lords Liberal Democrat peer.

When this newspaper first reported the story there was talk of the event being repeated next year with an even bigger line-up, perhaps across two days.

Editor’s note: Since publication Hillcroft College has told us that their spokesperson was wrong last June and there has never been any concern about the solvency of the College.

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