Saif Bonar is a busy man. “I have a meeting at 1pm until 2:30. And another from 3 until 4. And another from 4 until 4:30. But I’m free after, until 6, if that’s any good,” reads one of his hastily written e-mails.
Bonar is the man behind the first ever fully crowdfunded theatre in the country. The space opens this spring in Matthews Yard, a café and co-working project he established last year in Croydon.
A quick scan through his CV offers further proof that Bonar is no stranger to taking the initiative. Ten years ago, he jumped straight into a masters programme in information and knowledge management at London Metropolitan University without A-levels or an undergraduate degree to his name.
“At first, the course manager said, ‘Well, listen, you can’t just do that.’ So I suggested she give me an assignment,” he explains. “If it was good enough, she could let me on. If it wasn’t, she’d save me seven thousand pounds. She said, ‘Well, that sounds quite sensible’ – and was obviously happy with what I wrote.”
Before that, he worked in a number of different industries at home and, for a period, in Russia. An entrepreneur at heart, the fluid, improvised nature of the Matthews Yard project seems a good fit for someone of his disposition.
“None of it was massively planned, to be honest,” Bonar admits. “Matthews Yard grew out of a hands-off approach, letting people mould the space to what they wanted it to be. So when we had the potential for more space, we decided that, given all the theatres in Croydon were closed, and people had already done productions in the café, we should build a performance space.”
A plan was in place, but finding the funds to see it through posed a problem. Third-party investment or a bank loan were both options, but would lead to less control over what was an essentially community-focused art project. So, instead of dealing with the suits, Bonar turned to the very people who would benefit from a new theatre in Croydon.
“We know almost everyone who donated money through Matthew’s Yard. They’re our customers, our members or they’ve been here before and they like the space.”
Bonar used Kickstarter to source the necessary capital. The fundraising website allows users to financially contribute to a wide variety of projects, usually in exchange for a gift of some kind.
“I had an interest in crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, so I always wanted an excuse to try it out. It seemed like the perfect opportunity. We did a lot of promotion, tapped into local media and made the reward side really generous. Anyone that put in ten pounds got a free brunch and that sort of thing.”
In the end, the project attracted £8,000 of funding.
In addition to his already significant workload, Bonar reveals that he has a few other projects in the pipeline, but stops short of explaining them at length, joking that he fears: “giving too much away”.
For the time being, though, Matthews Yard keeps him busy enough.