Job Lot: Pete’s figuring it out


"Art for Art's sake; money for God's sake"... 10cc's wry lyric from 1976 packs a punch to this day with the arts seemingly forever frustrated by budget constraints - no matter what money is available it's never quite enough to meet the creative ambition.

Welcome to the world of Pete Wilson, Lighthouse Head of Finance. Pete keeps a firm hold on the purse strings, but there’s a crucial difference he says between how an accountant operates in the arts sector and how they would have to work in the purely commercial world. 

“Here, the job is one of finding financially prudent ways to enable people to realise their vision, rather than the ‘obstruct and destruct’ approach to spending in an organisation that is focussed on maximising shareholder value.”

It’s a difference that means joy consistently outweighs heartache in the emotional balance sheet of Pete’s job. 

“Oh, I love it,” he says, smiling.  

“Accountancy is a language and like any language it can be used to say different things. In essence, it is about exercising control to keep spending within budgets that are set in line with the aims of the organisation. At Lighthouse, we are working to fulfil our artistic aims and our charitable aims, while making sure there’s enough money to pay for keeping the building open and staffed.

“It’s said that accounting in the not-for-profit sector has to serve multiple bottom lines. There’s the financial bottom line – you aim to create a surplus to put back into the organisation – but there’s also the artistic bottom line and the community bottom line.” 

Neither of which can comfortably be contained on a spreadsheet, so the accountant’s role is just as much a part of the creative process as that of the director, the producer, the writer, or performer; as are those of the technician, programmer, marketer, ticket seller, fundraiser, steward or cleaner for that matter. 

“The figures indicate how the organisation is performing and inform decisions made around how much can be spent on maintaining the building, improving equipment, recruiting staff and a thousand other things, as well as producing our family panto in-house, or the community play, or this year’s landmark event, Poole Pride.” 

Pete, an Art History graduate, never intended to become an accountant but fell into the role after a short stint working at a Hampshire printer’s that produced high quality art catalogues for major London galleries and auction houses.  

“The pay was awful, but I got to have a cuppa with Richard Hamilton and    found myself up close to some amazing paintings, including some huge Picassos, as they came to be photographed for the catalogues. Then the work was lost to China, and everyone was made redundant.” 

Which is how Pete bumped into a fellow former student in Winchester who suggested he interview for a job as finance assistant at her workplace, the Theatre Royal. He got the job and a fortnight later found himself in sole charge when the accountant left following a sudden bereavement. 

“It was a steep learning curve, but I really enjoyed the work. After a couple of years, I decided to get trained properly and spent a few years working with three different firms doing tax returns and audits and all the stuff that accountants do. I met some great people and saw some really interesting businesses before moving to this area with my wife when we started a family.  

“I wondered if Lighthouse would be a good place and then one day the job advert appeared and here I am.” 

Ten years later, Pete’s understanding of Lighthouse and its work is the result of a decade with his hand on the financial tiller, reading the fiscal winds and anticipating the pitch, roll and yaw of the good ship Lighthouse to help steer a steady course. Having ridden the waves of the pandemic, from which the recovery is still on going, as well as the subsequent utility price hikes and the continuing cost of living crisis, things seem to be on a relatively even keel. 

“Well, yes, that’s true,” he says, “but we’re never satisfied.  

“November’s figures were the best I’ve ever been able to present, but I worried about what that would do to the organisation. As it was, I needn’t have because within minutes of presenting the figures the discussion had turned to what we could do better and where we could improve.” 

Even so, recent months have seen the most successful show in the venue’s history with a two-week sell-out run of SIX, the busiest panto of recent times in the shape of Aladdin, and the return of major rock and pop artists to the Concert Hall, with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds selling out just three minutes after going on sale. Surely, things are on the up? 

“There’s cause for optimism,” he concedes, “but it’s a precarious business.  

“We rely on significant grants from the Arts Council and BCP Council who fund Lighthouse because they want it to be a certain kind type of organisation. But given the huge increase in costs and the ever-present threat of reductions in funding, financial efficiency means we need to continue being creative and entrepreneurial. 

“Even if things stay as they are, the work is never done. There are so many amazing ideas and such a lot to be done – Lighthouse Academy is moving into the field of education, that’s hugely exciting.  

“Now, I’ve just got to manage how we pay for it.”