How can I make the most of Prosper North? Interview with Sarah Thirtle

We talk to Sarah Thirtle, Director of Business Support Programmes at Creative United, about how to make the most of the Prosper North opportunity.

What is Prosper North and why was it set up?
Prosper North is a free business support programme for cultural heritage organisations based in the north. It’s supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to help organisations and enterprises become more sustainable. We developed the programme here at Creative United, using a lot of the methods and content that have been tried and tested in our previous business support work.

The programme is linked to the government’s £3m Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund (NCRF), managed by Key Fund, which provides blended loan and grant finance (of up to £150k) to creative organisations that deliver positive social impact. The idea is that taking part in the Prosper North business support programme will help organisations become ‘investment-ready’ and that some will ultimately be successful in gaining finance from NCRF.

At the same time, it’s not expected that NCRF investment is right for everyone, and it’s fine to apply to Prosper North to strengthen your impact and income in other ways.

Who can benefit from the programme?
You’ll need to be based in one of the 11 Local Enterprise Partnership areas in the north (see this handy map to check out whether you are eligible). Our definition of cultural heritage is fairly broad and covers museums, archives, festivals, culturally-important buildings and venues, community organisations working with diverse groups – if you’re not sure just give us a call or email and check with us.

If you’re a volunteer-led organisation you are also eligible, and you don’t have to be a charity; social enterprises, CICs and companies with a clear social purpose can all apply.

What will participation in Prosper North involve? Who will we work with?
If you’re successful, you’ll join a cohort of about 25-30 organisations for a six-month programme. We’ll use the information provided in your application to match you with one of our team of specialist business advisors and mentors, making sure that they have expertise in the specific challenges and ambitions you’ve identified.

You’ll get 9-10 hours of 1:1 support with your advisor and there will also be a programme of five business development workshops, webinars and knowledge sharing meet-ups. Topics may include things like managing risk and change; data-driven marketing; business modelling; audience experience; and introduction to social investment.

What kind of challenges can the programme help with?
You’ll benefit from lots of 1:1 advice that can help you address issues specific to your organisation. We also expect there will be some common challenges that others in your cohort may be facing. For example, managing decreases in funding or the precarity of project to project funding. Or you might be developing a new business plan, developing a new service or wanting to repair your building.

What difference could it make for my organisation?
We think Prosper North can make a difference to organisations on a number of levels. It can help you create a business plan to grow both your income and social impact. It can help you get greater value from your assets (physical and/or intellectual property) and identify enterprise opportunities. Equally it might support you to access more diverse funding streams including social finance. Ultimately it’s all about increasing your stability and resilience as an organisation.

On a wider level, it will help grow levels of business skills and confidence in the cultural heritage sector in the north as well as recognising future cultural heritage in the making.

What do I need to consider before applying?
Have a think about whether you can commit the time to fully participating in the programme to make the most of the opportunity. To get maximum benefit from all the activity you’ll have to do some thinking and preparation outside the sessions. It’s also worth identifying the specific challenges you want to work on and thinking about how taking part in Prosper North might help you tackle them.

When should I apply?
If you’d like to join the first cohort you’ll need to fill in our simple application form by 5 August. If you’re successful you’ll take part in the programme from September 2019 til February 2020.

After that there will be two further opportunities to apply: 3 February 2020 for the second cohort (Mar to Aug 2020) and 3 August 2020 for the third cohort (Sep 2020 to Feb 2021).

What are you looking for in successful applications?
We want to support a range of organisations including smaller ones that find it harder to access support like this. We’ll want to see how your work has strong community and social impact and we’ll be thinking about the potential for Prosper North to have a transformational impact on your organisation. Plus your enthusiasm for making the most of the opportunity!

How can I find out more?
Get in touch if you’d like to find out more. You can meet us in person at a briefing event (next ones are Kendal on 3 July and Liverpool on 17 July). Or give us a call on 020 7759 1111. Or email us at

Find out more about the programme, the upcoming briefing events and start your application.