From community project to self-financing business
When Albsu’s two-year funding ended in 1985, Handprint was able to stay afloat with short term financial support from a variety of funders (including Cadbury Trust, West Midlands County Council, and Birmingham Inner City Partnership) whilst we worked on a long-term survival strategy.
It was clear Handprint would need to shift its dependence away from grant aid and develop a self-financing future.
For someone like myself, who had come from an educational, community, voluntary sector background, this was quite a change in mindset. But this was the era of Thatcherism: it was ‘make money or die’. Birmingham Economic Development Unit made the transition easier by appointing a research worker to undertake a six-month feasibility study, examining the market potential for commercial distribution of Handprint’s publications.
After various meetings and a lot of research, we submitted a business plan to the EDU who offered us tapering funding for two years on the basis that by the third year of operation we should be self financing. We were also advised to become a limited company.
Handprint Limited and the move to the Jewellery Quarter
Handprint set out to develop a range of income generating services that would help cash flow the publishing projects. This was essential because publishing is a long term investment. Money has to be spent years in advance of receiving an income stream, so we positioned Handprint as a small media centre, offering space to other fledgling media businesses, centralised office services, and our own desk top publishing design service.
We did this by securing a business loan from National Westminster Bank, and purchasing a building in the Jewellery Quarter, Hockley, with 2500 sq feet of office space. This building housed our own activities and provided rental office spaces for a number of small arts organisation. The building needed renovation and refurbishment. We moved into the new building in June 1987, installed basic services, and over the next four to six months concentrated on renovating and allocating office spaces.
Our research had shown that Handprint’s publications needed to be aimed at a wider market including schools, churches, prisons, projects and the wider community locally and nationally in order to be viable.
We expanded the original two Rocky books into a series of five, using Rocky to introduce other aspects of Jamaican life, geography, history and music.
So, in addition to the original pilot publications – Rocky the Woodcarver and Rocky’s Village – we added: Rocky’s Tour (a trip around Jamaica); Rocky’s Top Ten (10 legendary Jamaican singers); Rocky’s Heroes (profiles of Jamaica’s national heroes). We were now selling, sets of five Rocky Basic Reading Books.
In addition we published five new books about Caribbean historical figures called the Heritage Readers. These books were first published by The Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL) as part of their educational programme in 1972 and Handprint negotiated with Jamal to buy the rights to republish them in the UK. We commissioned the brilliant young artist Joseph Olubu to design new covers for the five readers, and other illustration work was carried out by a variety of local artists.
Empak Black History Books and Posters
Handprint distributed Empak Black History books and posters which were produced in the US. These are a set of 8 books highlighting some of the notable black people in history:
Historic Blacks in the Arts
Black Civil Rights Leaders
Historic Black Firsts
Historic Kings and Queens
Black Scientists and Inventors
Historic Black Women
Handprint marketing strategy
As part of the process of professionalising Handprint, we devoted a lot of time to researching and developing a computerised database of names and addresses of potential customers on a national scale so that we could target customers with direct mail. This included schools, colleges, multi-cultural units, prisons, and bookshops.
The Handprint Catalogue published in spring 1990, was mailed out to 6,500 names and addresses from our computerised database, including schools, colleges, libraries, prisons, social services, churches, community projects. In addition, a further 2,000 catalogues were inserted in the magazine Multicultural Education. The new catalogue was launched in mid March 1990, and in the period up to the end of April 1990, orders worth more than £7,500 had been received.
- Handprint and the development of media industry in Birmingham
- Ten 8 Magazine
- Ten 8 Photography Touring
- Mark Blackstock Associates (Corporate Video Production)
- Rhonda Wilson Photography
- Lantic TV (Film & Video production, productions included ‘Made in Birmingham’ for Central TV)
- Zubaan – run by Bindi Kalsi (Asian language design and translation)
- Soho Works (Film and Video workshop) run by Pervaiz Khan who produced ‘Utterance – the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’ for the Arts Council).
Extensive refurbishment was carried out on the building in Key Hill Drive, so that we were providing quality office space for a number of small media organisations which included:
The above projects and organisations developed significant revenue generating plans of their own. Ten 8 Magazine successfully negotiatied with Birmingham City Council for £100,000 to organise an International Photography Festival in the city. Soho Works tried to attract funding from Channel Four to set up workshops. Lantic TV produced a documentary for Central TV called ‘Made in Birmingham’.
In the financial year 1989-90, the combined turnover of Handprint and the above organisations was more than £250,000.00.
Desk top publishing
Under the direction of Derek Bishton, Handprint developed and expanded a DTP bureau providing top quality productions for our own in-house requirements and for a variety of outside customers using the latest Apple computers.
Finances for computer equipment came from one-off grant from EDU in 1989 and a loan from the Urban Trust in 1988. We had a number of regular clients for whom a wide selection of work was undertaken. These included The Urban Trust, St Basils Project, The Black Dance Trust, The Handsworth Cultural Centre, The Cadbury’s Trust, Technic Magazine (for the British Association of Operating Department Assistants), Midland Area Housing Association, Birmingham Adult and Continuing Education.
Other aspects of Handprint’s work
Handprint provided a variety of services, including accounting, fax transmissions, photocopying, typing, and secretarial, warehousing etc to tenant organisations and projects, thus sustaining their growth and continuity.
Job Creation and Training
Handprint was directly involved in creating a number of jobs and in supporting and sustaining many others. Desk Top Publishing created four new jobs – one DTP manager/designer, 2 designers, one part time typesetter. We provided DTP training for two Employment Trainees from Handsworth College and they both became ‘top of the class’ for being the most knowledgeable and skilled at DTP and computerised information.
The Desk Top Publishing and Handprint’s activities generally supported and helped to sustain a buoyant market for associated firms of typesetters, printers, and illustrators, designers, and photographers.
Consultancy and Advice
Handprint provided consultancy and advice on DTP, setting up DTP and databases and accounting systems to a large number of community projects, businesses, and individuals.
We were at the leading edge of DTP and were able to pass on invaluable support, advice and information to other groups including: WEMAS (West Midlands Ethnic Minority Arts); WomenPrint; Roy Peters Photography, Brian Homer Design, Jubilee Arts, The CAVE, Lionart Associates, Birmingham Independents, Birmingham Multicultural Support Services.
Why Handprint closed
The crash in property prices and the economic depression that followed Black Wednesday – 16 September 1992 – had a devastating impact on the viability of Handprint and the emerging media industries it was involved with. In a matter of months all of the tenant organisations either closed down or reduced their activity. In addition, one of Handprint’s distributors went bankcrupt owing us several thousand pounds. Handprint’s cash flow was squeezed, and as the value of the Key Hill Drive premises dropped and the commercial property market stagnated, our ability to use the building to secure the cash we needed to seed new publishing ventures receded. In any case, interest rates for commercial loans were 17% at that time.
Although Handprint might have been able to carry on as some kind of facility house, it would have had to abandon any hope of continuing as a publisher. And since that was why I had become involved in the first place and was my main motivation all along, I realised it was probably time to move on, and go back to my roots, as a teacher. Handprint ceased operations in 1994. A number of projects including a book about Multicultural Teaching and the National Curriculum, a plan to open an outdoor market in Keyhill Drive and a local history book aimed at primary schools were left uncompleted.