‘You must help us survive’: Theatres thrown down gauntlet to government

Norwich's Theatre Royal. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norwich's Theatre Royal. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

Theatres in Norfolk and Suffolk have thrown down the gauntlet to Westminster, demanding cash and support to stop the sector from crumbling.

Norwich Theatre chief executive Stephen Crocker outside the Norwich Playhouse. Picture: Norwich Thea

Norwich Theatre chief executive Stephen Crocker outside the Norwich Playhouse. Picture: Norwich Theatre - Credit: Archant

More than thirty of the region’s theatre leaders have backed a plan to be taken to government after the region has hit by job losses and cancelled shows.

This week alone the Norwich Theatre Royal announced it had been forced to axe half its staff, impacting employees at both the theatre as well as Norwich Playhouse and Stage Two.

MORE: Norwich Theatre Royal to axe 113 jobs

The end is still not in sight for the industry, which was not given the green light to reopen alongside pubs and restaurants this weekend.

The plan has been broken down into five points, the first being a request of £60m for economic investment.

These parachute payments would be delivered in a partnership between central government, Arts Council England and the LEP.

The document also asks for a sector-specific furlough scheme to protect the jobs of 6,000 employees currently on the job retention programme.

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Live performance venues have also asked for a detailed reopening plan, as well as a community and wellbeing awareness programme to help restore public confidence.

The final request is a region-wide cultural renewal strategy, which will bring together entertainment bosses as well as MPs, local authorities and the LEP to ensure the future of the industry.

Stephen Crocker, chief executive of Norwich Theatre Royal, said: “The risk to the future of arts and culture in our region and in our country is real and increasing by the day. We are being forced to make devastating decisions. Our sector has delivered so much to the economic and social prosperity of our country and region and we have a vital role to play during recovery but we need urgent investment and support before the damage done to our artists and organisations becomes irrecoverable and we are not here on the other side of coronavirus.”

Chris Gribble, chief executive of National Centre for Writing, added: “Through books and TV, music and Netflix, online and offline, culture and entertainment was a lifeline for us all through lockdown. As things ease we need to ensure that everyone is able to make, take part in and access life affirming and transformative cultural experiences to bring us together. Arts and culture are central to the community and economy of this region and if we don’t invest, we’ll all lose out

Natalie Jode, executive director of Creative Arts East, added: “In a moment when we are wrestling with an entire loss of income generation pathways, including box office and project funding, and unknown timescales and safety measures for cultural gatherings of all shapes and sizes, our sector desperately needs short-term parachute and longer-term renewal investment to keep this critical asset from falling off a cliff and able to play a role in the regeneration of our society.”

Alongside the signatories, which include the Workshop at King’s Lynn and The Seagull at Lowestoft to name a few, MPs have called on central government for backing.

Earlier this week Norwich South MP Clive Lewis called the job losses a disgrace.

Fellow Norwich MP Chloe Smith said that she has represented the Theatre Royal’s issues to both Treasury and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

MPs Duncan Baker, Richard Bacon, Liz Truss and Peter Aldous also called for funding, with Mr Aldous saying: “I have worked with the theatres within my constituency and entirely support them. I asked the prime minister in PMQs about backing for theatres and got the impression that he understands the urgency. I hope we can ensure the future vibrant and diverse theatres.”

In their own words: The five-point plan in full

1. £60 million economic investment package

The cultural and creative economy turns over more than £200m each year in our region and over 1.5m people visit the major venues and cultural destinations each year in Norfolk and Suffolk. We estimate it would require a range of different models of investment to the level of £60m over the period Sept 2020 – March 2022 to protect this invaluable part of our economy. Delivered in partnership with central government, Arts Council England and the LEP, this would enable ‘parachute payments’ similar to those used in football for the short term and renewal investment for the longer term.

2. Detailed reopening and re-engagement plan

A detailed and realistic plan with ‘in principle’ dates and set of guidelines to reopen the full range of venues and community activities in our cities, towns and villages so that residents and visitors alike can safely enjoy life enhancing and life changing cultural and creative activities.

3. Bespoke package of employment support

A flexible and bespoke furlough scheme to support the 6,000 regional jobs in culture and the arts as we reopen and reengage. This should include a devolved mechanism to organisations to enable furlough payments to freelance and portfolio workers.

4. Community and wellbeing awareness programme

A joint public health awareness programme to restore public confidence in beginning to reattend cultural events. This would also work to ensure that schools, communities, the health and social care sector have increased understanding of and can all benefit from the life enhancing work that our sector does all year round in permanent and temporary venues, care homes, village halls, day centres, pubs, prisons and education settings of all kinds.

5. A region-wide renewal strategy

A Norfolk and Suffolk cultural recovery plan endorsed and supported by our MPs, local authorities, LEP and private sector partners to cement the longer term survival of cultural assets, pump prime the creation of new work, and avoid the potentially catastrophic loss of an industry that brings over 5m overnight visitors to our region each year and which makes life richer, more connected and more creative for those who live and work here.