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Theatres at risk as the wait goes on for rescue money

Arts Council apologises for delay in getting grants out to venues

09 October, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Jez Bond: ‘We are doing all we can to fight to keep our staff on where possible’

A DELAY in government funding to save Covid-hit arts venues is putting jobs at risk and fringe theatres on the brink of ruin, it was warned this week.

The £1.57billion Arts Council rescue fund was announced in July and was expected to be handed out to theatres last week.

But many venues were informed that they would have a further wait to access the money because of “the complexity and volume of applications”.

Theatres say jobs are at risk now the furlough scheme has ended and fear the funding may now arrive “too late”.

Jez Bond, artistic director of the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park said: “We had to inform our staff [of the delay] who are dealing with a lot of anxiety at the moment. It is not fair on them but we have had to say there has been a delay.”

The theatre employs 15 permanent staff but relies on 40 freelancers to keep it running.

Mr Bond said: “There may be some tough decisions. We are doing all we can to fight to keep our staff on where possible. There are around 40 freelancers that keep the theatre working and who are being overlooked at the moment.

Damien Devine

“The post-furlough government scheme is pretty useless. It is going to put a lot of people in a precarious situation. We have done a massive ring around to get some funding to plug the gap.”

All around the country, there have been examples of theatres closing after running out of money during lockdown.

The Park Theatre has applied for £250,000 of the rescue fund. It raised £65,000 by fundraising in the local community, but Mr Bond said: “It’s not enough and we can’t rely on that when soon it is going to be heading towards a year without any income.

“We would have liked to see movement from the government a lot earlier and we would have liked to see an appreciation of what the arts does for the community.”

Damien Devine, landlord at the Old Red Lion Theatre Pub, said: “At the moment without our late opening hours we are still struggling.

“We have a 60-seat theatre and it might have been possible at one stage to reopen with some productions but now, it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

A spokesperson for Arts Council England said: “We understand this is an anxious time for many people and many organisations up and down the country.

“We apologise for the week’s delay in letting the first tranche of grant applicants know decisions, but we will still be able to get money to them this month.

“Given the volume and complexity of the applications that came through to this brand new fund, we’ve had to do additional due diligence to make sure money from the public purse is spent responsibly.

“We are working hard to get this much-needed funding out as quickly as possible, to those who need it most.”

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