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‘We can’t wait to have audiences back’: East End arts venues welcome £1.5bn bailout

PUBLISHED: 12:46 08 July 2020

Arts venues including Wilton's Music Hall in Whitechapel could benefit from a �1.5billion rescue package for arts, culture and heritage. Picture: Peter Dazeley

Arts venues including Wilton's Music Hall in Whitechapel could benefit from a �1.5billion rescue package for arts, culture and heritage. Picture: Peter Dazeley

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A £1.5billion bailout is “a crucial next step on the road to recovery” and a “vital lifeline” for the arts.

Half Moon Theatre director Chris Elwell welcomed the rescue package. Picture: Half Moon TheatreHalf Moon Theatre director Chris Elwell welcomed the rescue package. Picture: Half Moon Theatre

That’s the message from East End theatre venues following a long-awaited government announcement of support for the culture, heritage and arts industry on Monday, July 6.

Harry Hickmore, head of development and communications at Wilton’s Music Hall in Whitechapel, said: “There’s no doubt that the government’s £1.57billion rescue package will be transformative for British culture.

“It is a vital lifeline and one that hasn’t come a moment too soon.

“We at Wilton’s hope that east London will benefit from this generous package – our community has one of the most vibrant arts and culture scenes anywhere in the country.

Harry Hickmore is head of development and communications at Wilton's Music Hall. Picture: Angelica BomfordHarry Hickmore is head of development and communications at Wilton's Music Hall. Picture: Angelica Bomford

“With so many theatres, concert halls, museums and galleries up and down the country in similarly challenging situations and in need of this government support, we know, however, that not all organisations will be able to take advantage.”

The bailout is to be made up of £270million in repayable finance and £880m in grants which will be dished out with the help of organisations including Arts Council England and the British Film Institute.

Half Moon Theatre in Limehouse applauded the support and recognition it shows of the important role the arts play in uniting communities and inspiring young people and adults.

Chris Elwell, director of Half Moon Theatre, said: “The investment is a crucial next step on the road to recovery, allowing artists and creative organisations the chance to move forward and serve their communities with a hopeful future.”

The theatre has been closed for three months but has continued its work online with 11 of its shows made available for free online.

Two Half Moon productions due to tour the UK had to be cancelled including one which was due to open the day after the theatre closed its doors at the start of lockdown.

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The final dress rehearsal had just ended when the cast and crew were told the show would not go on.

However, Half Moon received some extra good news on Tuesday, July 7 after its application for funding from a separate Arts Council England emergency fund was given a thumbs up.

A small team, the venue has furloughed two workers, but has plans to run summer schools and is looking at more ways to continue its work online.

“We look forward to reopening our doors as a theatre as soon as it is safe to do so,” Chris said.

The money represents “the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture” and will offer a “lifeline to vital cultural and heritage organisations” hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the government.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down.”

Harry from Wilton’s Music Hall said: “In normal circumstances at Wilton’s we present extraordinary theatre and music in our unique building – the oldest Grand Music Hall in the world – all year round.

“Our Grade II* listed building is ordinarily home to more than 300 performances and over 80 productions each year. Since mid-March, when the pandemic struck, we’ve been closed to the public and have had to cancel many of our brilliant shows.

“We’ve lost a lot of income in this time and we are very grateful that supporters have stepped up and helped sustain us.”

He added that as the venue faces being closed even longer, staff will continue to make plans for the future and any support from the rescue package will be “immensely helpful”.

Behind the scenes Wilton’s staff are working to welcome back audiences when it is safe.

Shows are on sale from mid-October “with the awareness of the need to be flexible”, Harry said.

“We can’t wait to have audiences back enjoying our fantastic shows in our magnificent auditorium and gorgeous bar. It will be a very happy day when we can do this,” he added.


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