ACEarts signage

ACE stands for Art Care Education. They are a charity with a mission to make a difference to people’s lives through art and creativity, regardless of age, background or ability. They have been awarded the Somerton Town Council Award for Arts and for Business and in 2017 were very proud to be runners up in the Somerset Business Awards for Small Business Charity of the Year 2017. Trustee Shirley Chapman was a student on the School for Social Entrepreneurs Dartington (SSED) Somerset Social Entrepreneurs Programme 2018.

ACEarts is based in Somerton’s old Town Hall in Somerset. The derelict building was fully restored in 2016 in part thanks to funding by the building’s current owner and patron of the charity. It now houses a gallery shop downstairs and an art exhibition space, café and community space on the stunning upper floor.

Picture taken outside ACEarts of premises including entrance

The space is used for exhibitions, events and meetings that aim to include all sections of the community. One recent event saw a 4-year old working alongside a 93-year old and another successful exhibition involved large structures called podules that encouraged one young boy with severe autism to actually communicate with another child for the first time in his life.

Shirley worked in the finance industry and care industry prior to joining ACEarts. When she retired she started volunteering in the gallery and was subsequently asked to become a trustee and to do the finances.

Picture of Shirley Chapman standing next to piece of art work

It took about 18 months to get the gallery up and running. Although all the trustees had worked in high powered jobs, Shirley felt that they were running the charity more as a project and so decided that it was time to get expert advice and start planning for the future of the business. In particular, she was interested in finding out more about applying for funding and long term business planning. “We were coasting along well, but the course really helps you to formulate a plan for the future. It’s not until you do the course that you realise that you do need that expertise.”

One of ACEart’s objectives is to own the building. The charity had considered different ways of raising capital but Shirley says that the opportunity to discuss this with the different business advisors on the SSED programme business panel review was very useful, as they suggested various ideas that she can now explore with her board.
The charity works with over 120 freelance artists and designers who exhibit in the exhibition space and sell their work in the gallery shop. The sales from the gallery, shop and exhibitions enables ACEarts to provide their education and care activities, workshops and community events.

Inside ACEarts shop

For the past 6 months they have been focusing on their outreach work. They work with local residential and nursing homes to get the freelance artists out into the homes, working closely with health and social care professionals to create enjoyable art activity sessions. “These provide social interaction for the residents and help to increase happiness and wellbeing. We’ve had several people with severe dementia that haven’t socialised before whom have interacted through the sessions. We want to continue this work and hope to branch out into other care homes eventually.”

Shirley is keen to diversify the inclusive community activities that ACEarts provides and through the SSED course met fellow social entrepreneurs who were able to advise her on her plans to reach out, for example, to the refugee community, discussing options such as using food to bring communities together.

The SSED fellows also collaborate with each other. ACEarts are planning an exhibition involving 5 major structures, for which they have applied for Arts Council funding. Following the exhibition, the structures will need to be placed somewhere and one of the other students on Shirley’s course is planning an art trail on her community farm, so they are working together to place the structures along the trail.

In addition to generating income from the gallery and shop, ACEarts also apply for funding and grants to support their work. “It was very useful to get the knowledge from the business panel of how to go about applying for grants and funding.”

The Somerset Community Foundation gave them a grant which is being used to fund a postcard project between the residents in the care homes and local school children. They send each other postcards which will then be displayed in an exhibition at the gallery. They also received funding from Skipton Building Society for their outreach projects in care homes. And Santander gave them funds which have been used to provide assisted places for workshops with the artists, for those who would not otherwise be able to afford to participate in these.

ACEarts is run by 1 full-time and 2 part-time employees and 33 volunteers. The need for adequate staffing hit home recently when the gallery manager was off sick for a few weeks. Shirley says that one of the main purposes of attending the SSED course was to help the business to expand so that they can employ more people. She learnt from the course that business model, business structure, staffing resources and costs were a priority and is now focussed on how best to organise the structure of the business. “One of the action learning questions on the course was, what is your manager doing, is she doing what you’re employing her to do? She is absolutely amazing at doing all the exhibitions, the artists and that side of things but of course she is bogged down with the running of it. So that’s what I’ve learnt from the course that we actually need to employ someone to be the deputy so that the manager can get on and do her job. We would also like to employ someone to create an online shop so we can expand sales that way.”

Since the gallery first opened in September 2016 they have hosted a programme of inspiring exhibitions and the social enterprise model fits in well with the ethos of the business. One comment recorded in their exhibition visitor book states: “The most social exhibition I have ever been to – we’re all talking to each other and all generations interacting happily.”

They have set up the Somerton Area Alliance to make Somerton a dementia friendly town. “I am a dementia friend and we run dementia friends’ sessions in the hall and are aiming to get 500 dementia friends in the next year, we currently have 102. We’ve been running the sessions with the scouts, beavers and cubs and these have been fantastic and we also want to link into the schools with that as well.” A recent exhibition featured drawings and installations exploring dementia, helping to raise awareness of the issue locally.

“What I particularly liked about the School for Social Entrepreneurs programme was the good collaboration with everybody, getting other people’s ideas and the chance to reassess what you are doing as a business. I also benefitted from the sales sessions and was able to take the advice and information to upskill the gallery staff and volunteers, to help them with the sales skills required to run a successful retail business.”

Shirley definitely advises people to go on the course. “There were a lot of people there who hadn’t fully set up their businesses and they got a lot out it. The facilitators were excellent and their advice and the course content was very good. It was run exceptionally well and was the right sort of length. It was very beneficial, tapping into other people’s expertise. We had a good group and an excellent action learning set and it was great to collaborate with people who are willing to listen to you and give you their expertise.”

School for Social Entrepreneurs – Dartington are one of six delivery partners offering a minimum of 12 hours tailored business support to social entrepreneurs in Somerset and Devon as part of the Enhance Social Enterprise Programme. For more information and to register visit

Enhance Social Enterprise European Regional Development Fund logo

The Heart of the South West Enhance Social Enterprise Programme is receiving funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.