Z-arts’ CEO Liz O’ Neill wins one of seven new grants to visionary cultural entrepreneurs through the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Breakthrough Fund.

Paul Hamlyn Foundation announces seven new Breakthrough Fund grants totalling £1.365m

Paul Hamlyn Foundation has announced seven new grants to visionary cultural entrepreneurs through its Breakthrough Fund.

With support ranging from £40,000 to £300,000, the Breakthrough Fund will back these individuals and their organisations to push forward with the development and implementation of a range of exciting ideas and plans.

The recipients are:

  • David Agnew/So It Is – a multi-year grant of up to £180,000 (Bury)
  • Jimmy Akingbola and Fraser Ayres/TriForce Promotions – a multi-year grant of up to £250,000 (London)
  • Emma Jordan/Prime Cut Productions – a multi-year grant of up to £295,000 (Belfast)
  • Liz O’Neill/Z-Arts – a multi-year grant of up to £255,000 (Manchester)
  • Zeon Richards/Renowned Group – up to £40,000 over 12 months (London)
  • John Rostron/Sŵn – a multi-year award, with an initial phase of £95,000 over 18 months (Cardiff)
  • Magdalena Schamberger/Hearts and Minds – a multi-year grant of up to £250,000 (Edinburgh)

The Breakthrough Fund looks for outstanding individuals in the role of ‘cultural entrepreneur’ with compelling visions for how to make great things happen in the arts.

Launched in 2008, the Fund has now made a total of 22 grants. The awards span individuals working across many art forms, located throughout the UK, active in many different areas of the arts, and operating in the subsidised and non-subsidised sectors.

Through committed, responsive and flexible support, the Foundation hopes that significant developments can be achieved that would not otherwise come about. The Breakthrough Fund is unusual in providing support before recipients have drawn up detailed plans for their work. Instead the funding supports the grantees through the process of enabling their ideas to come to fruition. This approach makes a crucial difference to the grantees and to the companies that they run.

As in previous years, the new grants are the result of a confidential nomination system leading to a competitive selection process. Each year new nominators from across the arts world identify the individuals they think are the most suitable for support from the Fund. This year, 25 nominators made 49 nominations. The seven grants announced today were selected after a careful process of getting to understand all the applicants and their proposals.

James Lingwood, co-director of Artangel, PHF trustee and chair of the PHF Arts Programme Committee, said: 

“The Breakthrough Fund panel met some inspiring individuals and groups with potentially game-changing ideas for the cultural landscape in the UK. We’re delighted to back seven new Breakthrough projects in a significant way, and can’t wait to see how each of them develops over the next few years.”

Evaluation in 2012 of three earlier rounds of Breakthrough Fund grants identified that the Fund was offering support that was unique, greatly valued, and seen as of increasing relevance and value within the UK arts funding environment. Following the evaluation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation committed to running further cycles of the Breakthrough Fund. This year’s grants will be followed by a new selection process in 2016. 

Grantee details

The seven Breakthrough Fund grants made this year are to:

David Agnew/So It Is (Bury) a multi-year grant of up to £180,000

David is currently the Director of Bury Metropolitan Arts Association (The Met) in Bury just outside Manchester, where he has built up a very successful folk and roots music programme including the Ramsbottom and Homegrown Festivals which has allowed him to build audiences for other areas of the Met’s programme. David’s Breakthrough grant will allow him to set up his own company – So It Is – to produce its own events and festivals. It will also work with the Met and new networks of venues in the North West, many of whom have limited arts programming, to build strong, distinctive programmes and to attract sustained, enthusiastic audiences.

Jimmy Akingbola and Fraser Ayres/TriForce Promotions (London) – a multi-year grant of up to £250,000

TriForce Promotions started ten years ago as the vision of two actors: Jimmy Akingbola and Fraser Ayres. Establishing a successful career in the creative industries is tough, and Fraser and Jimmy were keen to create a supportive network that enabled creatives such as actors, writers and film-makers to connect and make things happen, no matter their background or ease of access to decision makers and talent spotters. Financed by their own acting and writing careers, with no funding support of any kind to date, TriForce has become a large, growing and accessible network. It produces a number of platforms for new talent – such as MonologueSlam UK or the TriForce Short Film Festival – plus training and artist development opportunities with industry based outcomes. The Breakthrough Fund’s support will allow the two founders and their Company Director Minnie Crowe to pay themselves for the first time while they run the company, and to grow its work in order to establish a self-sustaining future beyond Breakthrough fund support.


Emma Jordan/Prime Cut Productions (Belfast) – a multi-year grant of up to £295,000

Emma is a theatre director and Director of Prime Cut Productions in Belfast, one of Ireland’s leading independent theatre companies. Established since 1992, the company has premiered over 32 critically acclaimed plays from countries as diverse as France, Canada, Chile, South Africa and the USA as well as outstanding work from the UK and Ireland. In 2013, Emma collaborated with Bosnian theatre director Haris Pašovič to create The Conquest of Happiness, a large-scale performance for the Derry/Londonderry Capital of Culture programme, which Prime Cut then presented in Belfast, Ljubljana, Sarajevo, and Mostar with Pašovič’s East West Theatre Company. Emma’s Breakthrough grant will allow Prime Cut to build further on its producing relationships and its invitations to perform outside Northern Ireland. It will support Emma both to initiate and explore new artistic collaborations and aspects to her own work as a director. In additional it will enable her to devise and lead a series of artist development opportunities for emerging theatre makers in Northern Ireland.


Liz O’Neill/Z-arts (Manchester) – a multi-year grant of up to £255,000

Liz is CEO of Z-arts, Manchester’s venue for children and families, previously known as the Zion Arts Centre. Over the past four years, she has refocused, renewed and greatly strengthened the organisation, rebranding it as Z-arts, and establishing its new focus on creative arts activity and programmes for children, teenagers and families. This Breakthrough grant will support Liz as Director of Z-arts to pursue her vision for family theatre, working with artists and other co-producers to develop, commission and produce new work that reflects the diverse nature of family experience today. It will also build profile and know-how for both herself and Z-arts as originators of new work of this kind.



Zeon Richards/Renowned Group (London) – up to £40,000 over 12 months

Zeon set up and runs the Renowned Group, his own artist management company working in music, spoken word, visual arts and film, with artists such as George the Poet, Funny Tummy, Jacob Banks, Knox Brown and Wretch 32. Breakthrough support will allow Zeon to undertake the research and feasibility for a new company, uConnect – a social enterprise that will work alongside Renowned to promote social mobility and to respond to the entrepreneurialism of young people. uConnect will offer them valuable industry insight and skills through mentoring, training, networks and seminars.



John Rostron/Sŵn (Cardiff) – a multi-year award, with an initial phase of £95,000 over 18 months

John co-founded the Cardiff-based music festival Sŵn (pronounced ‘soon’) with friend and Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens in 2007 to promote and celebrate new music coming in and out of Wales. It has grown into a four-day event, with 200 artists in all kinds of venues plus DJs, exhibitions, film screenings, music industry sessions, outdoor performances and more. In February 2014, Sŵn won the NME Best Small Festival Award. Over the years, John has worked on Sŵn in a voluntary capacity alongside other professional commitments. He is currently Chief Executive of the Welsh Music Foundation, the music industry development agency for Wales. Breakthrough support will allow John to [leave his role at Welsh Music Foundation, in order to] focus on Sŵn full time and to pay himself a salary for this for the first time. It will enable him to build an expanded vision and plans for Sŵn that will see the organisation seeking to make a wider contribution to the growth and vibrancy of the Welsh new music scene, and to achieve a viable longer term future.



Magdalena Schamberger/Hearts and Minds (Edinburgh) – a multi-year grant of up to £250,000

Magdalena is Artistic Director and CEO of this Scottish arts-in-health charity, which she co-founded in 1997. The company aims to improve the experience of people in hospital, hospice, residential and respite care by using the performing arts to encourage communication, interaction and laughter. Its Clowndoctors work with children, and its Elderflowers use the performing arts to creatively engage with elderly people living with dementia across Scotland. Magdalena’s grant will allow her to pursue a number of new avenues in the company’s work. Creative research time will enable her to explore the ways that other performance languages can combine to allow a new kind of performance interaction with people with dementia. Further development will test how this might take place in arts or community settings rather than in care home settings, creating an experience that could be shared by those living with dementia and their family members alongside them. Magdalena also wants to develop a new form of training approach to allow artists and creative practitioners to understand more about the experience of living with dementia and to elicit different kinds of creative responses. She will work with various partners throughout this process, within the arts, health and academic sectors, ensuring that the impact of the company’s work is understood within the framework of health and care policy evaluation research at present.



Further information

For more information on the Breakthrough Fund, please visit the Paul Hamlyn Foundation website, www.phf.org.uk/breakthroughfund

For press or media enquiries please contact Dan Watson, PHF Communications, dwatson@phf.org.uk


About Paul Hamlyn Foundation

Paul Hamlyn Foundation is an independent funder supporting work in the arts, education and learning and social justice in the UK, and a programme of support for NGOs in India. Founded in 1987 by the publisher and entrepreneur Paul Hamlyn (1926–2001), PHF has grown to become one of the UK’s larger independent foundations. Its mission is to help people to realise their potential and enjoy a better quality of life.

During 2013/14 the Foundation has been carrying out a strategic review. Its new strategy will be announced later in 2014.

For more information visit www.phf.org.uk

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