the impact of Covid-19 on the South East venue network

auditorium credit ballardinix from Pixabay

The house team has been in contact with over 50% of venues in the South East house network, via email and phone (roughly 100 venues). This report is designed as a summary of the current situation for venues in the South East, and the impact Covid-19 has had four weeks after venue closures.

All venues in the network are in precarious positions. From our knowledge, we estimate that roughly 8% are NPOs, 15% receive some funding, 5% are council-run, and that the remaining don’t receive substantial funding. We’d categorise approximately 19% as venues that solely or predominantly depend on income from their buildings being open (rather than funding).

Most venues are taking advantage of the government staff retention scheme (programmers are usually among the staff being furloughed). There is a drop in engagement with house as more staff members take temporary leave. Of those working, many are working from home, have reduced hours or are being redeployed to support other areas of the community.

We believe around 19% (35) of venues are particularly fragile. These are often the more entrepreneurial and are unfunded by local authorities, councils or trusts. They will most likely be adversely affected because the majority of their income comes from the building being open to the public (e.g. tenants, tickets, cafes/bars, workshops, etc).

While most venues are in survival mode, some (mainly funded businesses, such as National Portfolio Organisations, but not exclusively) are offering commissions and call-outs in response to the pandemic. Many funded organisations are working with their funders to seek permission to redistribute ring-fenced funding to the support core costs.

We are further investigating the sectors medium-term resilience and ability to call on reserves. Most are reconciled to planning a survival model through to September although it is likely that they will need to reduce costs and generate more and new income to mitigate the impact of temporary closure.

Recovery timelines are unpredictable. Even if venues reopen their doors to the public, many vulnerable people may avoid public spaces, and it could take months/years to restart meaningful activity and rebuild loyal audiences.

While the Arts Council England Emergency Funding will prove beneficial to some non-NPOs, some won’t be successful and will need to look for other solutions.

In many instances, venues are depending more heavily on the experience and expertise of their board for advice. Trustees are being called upon to make big decisions.

Many venues are fundraising and calling on their communities to support them financially (Gift Aid can play a role in this for charities). However, some venues don’t have the capacity or skills to implement an effective fundraising campaign at short notice; and some individuals can’t afford to offer this kind of support. Some venues have furloughed all staff, including Company Directors, meaning they cannot apply for any funding.

Performances due to take place between March and July have mainly been postponed to Autumn 2020 and Spring 2021, if not cancelled. Venues are conscious of the lead-in time required for touring productions and the uncertainty of future Arts Council grants for theatre-makers.

Some venue concerns include:

  • Staff retention over the summer and employment conditions into the autumn
  • Uncertainty about duration of the shutdown
  • Impact on future audiences:
    • Will the lack of engagement with audiences have an impact on reopening?
    • When will it be safe for those ‘at risk’ to return to venues?
    • Will the increase of digital content and the ‘Stay Home’ campaign affect how audiences spend their disposable income after the pandemic?
  • Wellbeing and mental health of staff and their families during and after the pandemic.
  • Lack of income for business (e.g. rent, retail, café, tickets, workshops)

house continues to talk to venues in the network and keep up to date with changes. A majority of the network have closed until early September and recovery timelines are unpredictable. It’s too soon to tell if audiences will look different when theatres reopen their doors to the public.

We’re not experts and we can only share what we hear from venues, theatre-makers and our own opinions, but there is an overwhelming spirit of support and solidarity throughout the house network.

Things will probably change when we emerge from lockdown, but we ask you to stay positive, remember your missions and be flexible in your thinking. We will all forever be part of history, and we want to rise from this crisis as better organisations, and with a greater understanding of humanity, culture and community.

We’re bringing venues in the network together regularly during this period. Find out about the next ‘Afternoon Tea with house’.