Fotonow CIC

Plymouth-based Community Interest Company Fotonow has secured further Arts Council England (ACE) Bridge support through RIO after working towards measuring the impact of their work as a social enterprise business.


Based around the delivery of socially inclusive visual culture, Fotonow uses this media as a tool to educate and engage with a wide range of communities; their ethos being to ‘utilise photography as a catalyst for social change’. Fotonow’s work is often highly visible, allowing people to experience visual culture outside of the traditional art gallery.

The company, established in 2009, received an initial round of ACE Bridge Challenge Funding, secured through RIO, in 2014 to develop a service level agreement in delivering work to children and young people in Plymouth.

Fotonow were granted £24,000 to develop an ACE Arts Award pilot programme and to engage cross sector funding partnerships by acting as a catalyst to build a comprehensive programme of creative educational activity, with Arts Award and other programmes, in partnership with businesses outside the cultural sector.

Fotonow said: “For our 2014 Bridge Challenge Fund bid we aimed to continue our work with young people, playing an important conduit role between the creative industries, wider business sector and the community. We proposed to use this opportunity to continue to create and facilitate ‘real life’ cultural and creative sector experiences, skills development and employment. We aimed to foster a city wide cross sector approach in all our projects, whether education programmes or professional jobs, working with social enterprise and commercial business.”

Fotonow wanted to build on partnerships already established with three regular clients – Plymouth City Council, Stepping Stones to Nature and Barefoot – to also offer young people the opportunity to achieve an Arts Award. The Arts Award qualification aims to broaden young people’s horizons; extending their creativity, communication, teamwork and leadership skills. Arts Award is managed by Trinity College London, with RIO leading regional development for the South West as part of the Bridge network funded by Arts Council England.

Following a competitive tender process RIO is working with 36 organisations to deliver Arts Award by developing a wealth of exciting programmes and real opportunities for young people in the South West. The range of programmes is vast and spans schools, colleges, youth organisations and the wider arts and cultural sector; some focusing on how to foster the development of gifted and talented young artists and others interested in engaging harder to reach young people; ensuring an arts career pathway is accessible to all.


Fotonow’s Challenge Funding in 2014 went towards working with a large number of young people across the city through community development and arts work. In partnership with certain agencies and other investors, Fotonow sought to mentor individuals that benefit from working with creative practitioners. They explored projects in collaboration with these investors to work with targeted youth groups, supporting the agenda for more one-to-one activity.

Examples of this included working with Plymouth City Council’s Youth Service on a project working with young people in Honicknowle and delivering summer schools back in 2014; expanding the scope with Stepping Stones to Nature to develop a project at the Kinterbury Creek Nature Reserve in the west of the city and working with media company Barefoot to undertake media education in Ernesettle as part of a larger community development project delivered over two years, meeting Barefoot’s charitable aims for community development and cohesion. The work with Barefoot in Ernesettle saw the start of a Young Journalist Project, an opportunity for young people not engaging in school to develop media and writing skills in an informal setting.

Fotonow fed back to RIO that the Challenge Fund projects were broad in how they moved relationships with partners into new spaces, with clear understanding of collaborative approaches to how young people take control of media learning and apply the work with purpose for partnership organisations.

Fotonow said: “Not only did young people gain Arts Award and social enterprise qualifications they had access to working relationships and networks that Fotonow has developed, gaining an insight into the creative industry.

“We believe that the individuals taking part grew in confidence, feeling more able to navigate increasingly uncertain employment options. The scheme introduced young people to the idea of industry experience, live project work and cultural activity for social gain. The programme also introduced the idea of creative apprenticeships and addressed employability.”

The Challenge Fund received by Fotonow in 2014 built on these existing partnerships and created further opportunities for collaborating in the future. Fotonow explained:

“The work [begun in 2014] is still ongoing with some great achievements already, from young people achieving Bronze and Gold Arts Award…to community exhibitions at the Honicknowle Youth Centre. The Summer Schools were successful and with great output leading to the Youth Service commissioning Fotonow to work on new projects.”

Results and Next Steps

Following on from their Bridge Challenge Funded work in 2014 Fotonow have gone on to receive ACE Bridge Innovation Programme support through RIO to re-evaluate and restructure their business model so that they have a framework to measure the social impact of their work. Fotonow have also built on their capacity by employing new staff including a graduate intern and a paid creative apprentice.

James Ellwood, Film Projects developer at Fotonow, said: “We went on to receive further business development support from RIO which took the form of monthly sessions looking at how we could measure the social impact of what we do as a company.

“We were previously good at capturing what our work looks like, particularly as a media company, but not at capturing the facts and figures and making an impact statement. Learning how to do this has been really valuable.

“We’ve managed to get the whole company on board with this developmental process and whilst the sessions have been very challenging in some respects, they have also been really exciting. With RIO’s help we were able to pull the company apart and rebuild it with a new structure and aims. We know it’s important to regularly review things but it wouldn’t have happened as successfully without the support of RIO.”

Fotonow said they feel the Bridge Innovation Programme support has opened up a dialogue amongst staff and created an environment where it’s ok to ask questions and challenge what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

“It’s now normal for us to have a conversation about how we measure the impact of the work we do,” James Ellwood added.

Fotonow report already seeing the effects on potential clients and partner organisations.

“Previously we could show people visually what we do but now we have a framework and documentation to share, with our own staff as well as new clients, so we’re all clear about what we’re working towards,” James said, “It’s starting to embed itself and I think this will ultimately grow. We have really built on and improved our relationship with RIO during the Bridge Challenge Fund and Innovation Programme process and feel this will continue to develop further in the future.”

A measurable impact of Fotonow’s initial Bridge Challenge Fund is the employment of Creative Apprentice Jake McPherson through the Community Arts Apprenticeship scheme. A talented young photographer Jake graduated from Fotonow’s Gold Arts Award programme and won Plymouth’s Young Photographer of the Year (at Young Motion Plymouth 2014). Jake supports FotoPlus, Fotonow’s commercial collective and is a good example of a young person that Fotonow have engaged with who has ended up working successfully in the creative job sector. Jake has already produced some serious studies, including documenting Plymouth History Festival 2014. He has been developing his documentary and portrait work, alongside supporting Fotonow’s general activity.

Fotonow were also recently awarded the Social Enterprise Mark in recognition of being a sustainable social enterprise and also joined the SE100 (social enterprise) Index. They now work across the region to ‘stimulate new dialogues with photography and the wider arts’.

RIO CEO Lindsey Hall said: “Fotonow have grown and diversified their business model since their inception in 2009. RIO have been supporting them in terms of how they develop and they are establishing a good framework so they are sustainable for the future. The company is moving towards becoming a thriving social enterprise business with joined up ideas and a sustainable model.”