As the subsidised sector faces the prospect of substantial cuts to arts funding, commercial theatre today launches a new investment fund for the future of the West End.

In an event held at London’s Hospital Club this afternoon, Stage One, the charity dedicated to developing and supporting producers for the commercial theatre industry, unveiled the Start Up Fund for New Producers as well as its first recipient, Becky Barber, who has been awarded £25,000 for her first major forthcoming West End production, which – though not yet officially announced until later this week – is expected to be an adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ best-selling 1993 novel Birdsong, set during the First World War.

Stage One has been working behind the scenes for several years to nurture up-and-coming producers through workshops, bursaries, mentorships, apprenticeships and smaller investments. The new Start Up Fund will give at least four of the best producers identified through these existing programmes a £25,000 investment for their first major commercial production, which they will then have to match or better with their own funds for a minimum £50,000 co-producer share.

Stage One has raised over £300,000 for the first three years (2010-2012) of the scheme. This dedicated pot of money has been contributed by other theatre industry bodies, from marketing agencies to lighting and sound companies, graphic designers, literary agents, accountants and insurers, all of whom have each pledged a donation per annum. The hope is that, at the end of the three years, the Fund will have helped to establish at least three recipients as prominent and active new producers both in London and across the UK.

Start Up recipients will have already been successfully producing on a smaller scale, have a good working knowledge of how to produce, have made good contacts in the industry and will be ready to make the jump to produce on a much larger scale.

Becky Barber is currently assistant producer at Old Vic Productions where she works with chief executive Sally Greene and executive producer Joseph Smith. Prior to Old Vic Productions, she spent two years at Cameron Mackintosh Ltd. Her independent work includes associate producer on the new musical Only the Brave at the 2008 Edinburgh Festival.

Speaking today, Barber said: “I am thrilled and humbled to be the first recipient of the Stage One Start Up Fund. To have the support of the charity and the industry professionals involved is invaluable and a huge vote of confidence in me. Stage One is utterly unique in its support of up-and-coming producers, and I hope that the opportunity that has been awarded to me will inspire other people to take advantage of all initiatives that Stage One has to offer.” She added that she was looking “forward to the imminent announcement of my hugely exciting project and my West End debut as a producer.”

Today’s event was attended by media, invited guests and industry supporters including Stage One Patron Cameron Mackintosh, Sally Greene and actresses Juliet Stevenson and Samantha Bond. The Chair of Stage One, Luke Johnson, said: “In these times of uncertainty about public investment in the arts, it is essential that the next generation of commercial producers are identified, nurtured and financially supported. We are delighted that we have identified such an exciting young producer to receive the first award and may it hail an era of enterprise, imagination and creative energy as Stage One continues to launch the careers of the producers of tomorrow.”