Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Theatres and museums hoping to benefit from grants

Theatres and museums hoping to benefit from grants

THEATRES and museums are waiting to find out if they are eligible for the Government’s £1.57bn support package, writes Luke Adams.

Venues across the country have struggled after many months of lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government is yet to give full details about how the money will be divided. Organisations may be able to apply for grants, while others will have to use loans to avoid closure.

Live indoor performances are still not permitted as part of efforts to reduce the spread of the virus.

Julie Huntington, one of the trustees of the Kenton Theatre in Henley, said: “We are delighted with the news and await further details with interest and anticipation.

“We would certainly look into applying for any grants available and will wait to see what the criteria for any such grants and loans may be.

“Following all the campaigning from creative industries, it has been made clear that the money will be spread country wide across arts institutions.

“Although it has been stated that the venues known as ‘crown jewels’ will be protected, help for regional theatres was specifically mentioned, especially where it is the only one within a certain radius.

“The Kenton is the fourth oldest working theatre in the country — it has a heritage and we would be hopeful to be considered under the new funding regulations.

“Careful management has made sure that there is money in the account, but it will only sustain us for so long.

“We need to be able to put bums on seats and fundraising measures in place to ensure a steady income begins to grow again and replenish our reserves.

“We need to make sure that people will feel safe coming out — if audiences do not feel safe, they will not attend. It costs £14,400 per month to operate the Kenton when open and £5,500 when closed.

“The latest guidelines say that theatres are now allowed to open, but not to hold live performances. Under current guidelines it would be unsustainable for the Kenton Theatre, like so many others, even if allowed to do so. We are constantly monitoring the situation for any new developments.”

Sally Hughes, director at The Mill at Sonning, said she would reserve judgement until she learned more about the measures.

She added: “We don’t know what the criteria is and I have a feeling they are going to look after all of the big guys first, so we really don’t know what it means for us yet.

“I think it is amazing and it is a wonderful thing and I hope that we will benefit and not from a loan, because that is not what we want. I think everybody is loaned up to their eyeballs. People need help to bring staff back off of furlough and we just need dates about when and how we can reopen.

“We are a business and we aren’t subsidised by the Arts Council. It is a theatre business that doesn’t make much of a profit and we have some amazing customers who have supported us.

“We rely on our box office and it is so awful not to have that at the moment. We concern is that all of this money will go to the subsidised sector and not commercial theatre.”

Staff at The Mill have been furloughed since March, with those in the restaurant set to return from July 29.

Mrs Hughes said the theatre had been supported by generous donations from the community. A number of celebrities, including Jeremy Irons, Sinéad Cusack and Debbie McGee, have contributed videos to the website, with people being asked to give a donation to watch them.

Mrs Hughes added: “We are okay financially at the moment, but this would certainly help. We have had some great support from the community, but it would be amazing to have a bit more. It all depends how the virus continues and how long we have to stay closed for. From the evidence of the love we have had, people love coming to see us and it is so important to their lives and the wider village community.”

Sarah Posey, director of the River & Rowing Museum, described the resuce package as “very welcome news”. She said: “Since its closure on March 17, the museum has seen its income reduced drastically. This has meant zero admissions, events, shop or café income all the time our doors have been closed.

“We are a charity, and we receive no government funding, relying 100 per cent on our visitors and supporters.

“As we continue to work hard behind the scenes on the reopening of our award-winning museum, making it safe for our staff, volunteers and visitors, the promise of this investment offers arts organisations a potential lifeline.”

Meanwhile, the the Corn Exchange in Wallingford will not be re-opening until September at the earliest.

The board has announced that at first it will only be showing films in its cinema when it re-opens and is working with its volunteers on the best way of doing so.

A statement said: “We are totally committed to the health, safety and well-being of our fantastic volunteers and our loyal and supportive audience and are working hard to ensure we make the Corn Exchange as safe as possible for all our visitors.

“We are taking professional health and safety advice on how best to modify our unique building, create covid19-safe procedures and ensure everyone is fully trained.”

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