£10.5m Funding Gap for Norfolk & Suffolk's Performance Venues

  • Stephen Crocker, Chief Executive of Norwich Theatre

A group of nineteen of Norfolk & Suffolk’s most-loved performance venues have come together to assess the devastating impact caused by the COVID-19 crisis and shutdown and collectively call on local, regional and national government to support a specific sector intervention for venues.

Every year these venues entertain and engage over 1 million people with a huge variety of gigs, concerts and performances as well as workshops and participatory activities for people of all ages. The region’s venues are also major economic players, collectively generating £43.5m in income in the 2018/19 financial year and directly sustaining over 500 full-time equivalent jobs.

The venues are: Dance East, Ipswich; Diss Cornhall; Eastern Angles Theatre Company, Ipswich; Fisher Theatre, Bungay; Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich; Marina Theatre, Lowestoft; National Centre for Writing, Norwich; New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich; Norwich Arts Centre; Norwich Puppet Theatre; Norwich Theatre; Quay Theatre, Sudbury; Seagull Theatre, Lowestoft; Sheringham Little Theatre; Snape Maltings; St George's Theatre, Great Yarmouth; The Garage, Norwich; Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds and Wells Maltings, Wells-next-the-Sea.

Since the closure of these venues in mid-March, 1,605 performances have been caused to cancel and just 700 have been able to be re-scheduled. This has resulted in the venues projecting a total collective loss of income until the end of September 2020 in excess of £15million.

The impact survey and analysis was undertaken as part of the work of the New Anglia Culture Board and its chair, Helen Wilson, said: “The cultural sector is a vital part of both the social and economic fabric of our region and our performance venues are at the heart of that. The interventions so far have been very important, but are clearly not enough. A strong cultural sector coming out of this crisis is critical to our region’s recovery and regrowth as a key contributor to the visitor economy sector, the second largest employment sector in the region.”

The government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been a lifeline for the venues with almost 700 people currently on furlough leave from the venues’ workforces and an anticipated drawdown from the scheme of c. £3.6milion across the venues by the end of September 2020. However, due to the nature of these buildings and organisations, the venues still collectively carry £2.5million of unavoidable staff costs over the same period associated with continuing to safely maintain buildings, process refunds and exchanges for customers and plan for the speedy re-opening of venues.

The venues have also been able to benefit from other government initiatives including £365,000 from the Retail, Hospitality & Leisure Business Grants scheme and £215,069 in
support to the venues from Business Rates relief. The Emergency Funding Packages from Arts Council England have also seen £283,540 of additional support come into the region for the venues to date.

The incredible generosity and loyalty of theatre, concert and gig lovers from across the region and beyond has seen an incredible £420,000 of support reach the venues, particularly through donations in lieu of refunds as well as responses to direct appeals for support.

To date, the total value of government interventions to the region’s venues until the end of September and their own fundraising efforts is estimated at £4.8million leaving a huge gap of £10.5million in their collective finances over the period.

The lack of certainty around viability of re-opening and the ending of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in October is likely to see venues’ losses further increase significantly and many will cease to be financially viable before the end of 2020.

The venues are now collectively calling on local, regional and national government to support a specific sector intervention for venues, which are likely to be the last business to be able to open at full scale operation.

The venues fear that it will take time for attendance levels to return to pre-shutdown levels and, if current social distancing restrictions remain in place until the end of 2020 and there is no sector-specific intervention, 85% will be forced to make major and potentially devastating organisational changes in order to still be financially viable at the end of October 2020 when the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme runs out.

If the venues are not able to stage their Christmas seasons, 15% will have no choice but to close permanently by January 1st and if there is a prolonged period of closure, 50% will close by 1st April 2021.

The safety of their staff, volunteers and visitors remains the primary consideration for all venues and many venues will need additional financial support in order to make them COVID-secure if they are able to re-open in the short term. 85% of venues remain unsure whether they will be able to re-open their bars, cafes and retail spaces in early July with many only able to re-open in a limited way and 15% unable to open any parts of their buildings at all whilst social distancing measures remain in place.

On behalf of the venues, Stephen Crocker, Chief Executive of Norwich Theatre said: “Our region’s venues are at the heart of life across Norfolk and Suffolk and make these counties the incredible places that they are but the risk to their future is stark. What we do goes way beyond the act of staging performances or delivering activities, it is about bringing people together to share in an experience. In a post-Coronavirus world when social distancing is a thing of the past, I cannot imagine something more important than this. It is clear we need further interventions and this comes at a cost, but the value of the role we have to play as we recover is inestimable.”

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