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In April 2020 Theatre and Dance NI was formed – following the successful merger of Dance Resource Base and Theatre NI.  

Based in the Crescent Arts Centre in the Queens University area of Belfast, Theatre and Dance NI is now Northern Ireland’s leading support agency for theatre and dance.

Andrew Talbot of Collaboration Ireland, a specialist in charity mergers, facilitated the merger process from the initial conversations in summer of 2019 until the successful completion in April 2020.

“The small investment in Collaboration Ireland’s facilitation was worth its weight in gold. With Andrew’s professional guidance, we built trust and consensus and developed a strong vision for the new organisation which helped drive the process forward. 

Merging two charities is extremely challenging, particularly for smaller organisations, where resources are limited. With Andrew’s constant advice, guidance and support we managed to deliver the successful merger in a relatively short time frame. This facilitation was key to the success of the merger”

Niamh Flanagan, Executive Director of the new Theatre and Dance NI charity 

“Merger discussions were ongoing for some time before Andrew came on board to support us through the legal process to completion. 

Andrew’s role as independent facilitator was vital to guide and steer us through the complex process of agreeing the shape of the merger and ensuring every voice was heard and that the best interests of the both companies involved was always the goal. 

We at Dance Resource Base found Andrew a pleasure to work with: honest, calm and reassuring, providing solid guidance even when navigating the trickier aspects of the process, and we are grateful for his role in getting the merger over the line to form the new Theatre and Dance NI”

Orla McGrady, Director of Dance Resource Base

Which organisations merged?

TheatreNI –  the leading infrastructure and support body for theatre in Northern Ireland.  

Dance Resource Base – Northern Ireland’s leading advocacy and resource charity in the world of dance. 

Both TheatreNI and Dance Resource Base were funded by the Arts Council for Northern Ireland. 

Why did TheatreNI and Dance Resource Base decide to merge?

It is critically important that everyone involved in a merger process knows why merger is in the best interests of the charities and their beneficiaries.    

In short, there must be a convincing strategic rationale for the merger. 

In the case of Theatre and Dance NI, the strategic rationale was clear from the outset. 

In joining forces, the new charity would:

  • Provide a single, more powerful voice to advocate for theatre and dance in NI 
  • Make greater impact and deliver a more ambitious programme of events and member support
  • Be more financially sustainable
  • Bring together the expertise, knowledge, experience and energy of the staff and volunteers
  • Make a common home in the Crescent Arts Centre, a thriving modern hub for the arts and theatre in Belfast

What was the process?

Charity merger projects are almost always complex, challenging, expensive and stressful. 

A good structured process is therefore essential.

Initial conversations between TheatreNI and Dance Resource Base began as long ago as 2018, but it was in summer 2019 when Collaboration Ireland was engaged to facilitate the process – and work on the merger began in earnest. 

A joint working group was formed which met every month – and included senior employees, chairs and a team of dedicated trustees. 

Detailed negotiations began and a written Heads of Agreement was put in place. Solicitors were appointed and the processes of legal and financial due diligence was undertaken. 

Were there any challenges?

‘Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made’ – Otto von Bismarck 

What is true for laws and sausages, is also true for charity mergers. 

There are challenges in every charity merger – and around a third of charity mergers never make it to completion.  Every merger journey is a long road with many unexpected twists and turns and bumps along the way. 

The TheatreNI and Dance Resource Base merger was no exception. There were many challenges to overcome – and in fact, the target completion date had to be moved back on a couple of occasions. 

Everyone was delighted therefore when the merger finally completed on Friday 24 April 2020.

There were many reasons for this success – but one key component was the hard work and dedication of the joint working group and, in particular, their willingness to stay engaged with the process and to keep negotiating in good faith in order to overcome every obstacle. 

What was the role of Collaboration Ireland?

An independent honest broker can be one of the keys to success in a complex collaborative project like a charity merger. 

Andrew Talbot of Collaboration Ireland acted as an independent merger facilitator. The role involved: 

  • Project leadership; 
  • Chairing the joint working group; 
  • Facilitating negotiations;
  • Drafting project documentation;
  • Transition planning; and
  • Liaising with other professionals involved.

Andrew had previous experience of arts sector mergers in NI. 

He had previously facilitated the successful merger of NITA and UAYD – which had led to the formation of TheatreNI in 2015. 

At the request of the Arts Council for Northern Ireland, Andrew had also facilitated the formation of CraftNI in 2017, a merger of the two leading Craft charities in Northern Ireland.  

13 November 2020