Nightclubs and theatres amongst venues with the longest reopening wait

‘First to close, last to open’ has been the unfortunate story of entertainment venues ever since the COVID-19 nightmare began - and the prime minister’s ‘roadmap out of lockdown,’ revealed on Monday (22 February), shows it will remain so until the end. 

Boris Johnson announced his four-date plan for reopening England’s society this week; with each step subject to manageable infection rates, risk assessment (including of any new variants) and the successful continuation of vaccinations. 

Unsurprisingly, venues based on sustained indoor social contact will be amongst the last to welcome visitors again. Step 3 will see cinemas and museums/galleries reopen from 17 May - alongside hotels, plus indoor performances and sporting events with restricted audiences - amidst further relaxations on social gatherings and a potential ‘vaccine passport.’ The fourth and final step (from 21 June) will hopefully see all limits lifted, promising a return to full capacity for the likes of theatres and gig venues, as well as the reopening of nightclubs. 

2020 07 17 Deaf Institute Witch Fever Debbie Ellis
Reopening with reduced capacities isn’t feasible for many performance venues Debbie Ellis

But, while industry leaders have welcomed a (long-awaited) tentative opening date, concerns are mounting over how the sector’s continued closure will be financed. As we pointed out in our article on what the roadmap means for hospitality: ‘Unfortunately, Johnson's address to Parliament was not forthcoming on details. Instead (business leaders) will have to wait for Rishi Sunak's budget, which will be delivered on March 3, meaning at least another week of uncertainty. However, the Government's own COVID-19 Response document makes for sobering reading. Furlough currently runs out at the end of April and there are hints that it will only continue in a reduced form. The Government also seems resigned to some businesses closing…’

While commenting on the reopening of night-time venues in particular, Night Time Industries Association CEO Michael Kill’s statement that ‘the sector urgently needs additional clarity on reopening and critical financial support from the chancellor if we are to avoid economic and social damage that will last a generation’ reflects the stark reality faced by all the arts and entertainment industry.

Reopening arts and entertainment - the latest updates (autumn-winter)  

In late November last year, grassroots music venues in Tier 2 and below were finally given permission to sell alcohol during events, making their partial opening more viable; however the next tier review saw much of England placed in Tier 3 anyway, a case - as throughout much of the pandemic - of one step forward, two steps back. With the industry continuing to struggle, the UK’s first Centre for mental health in the music industry opened in Stockport, and December saw the Music Venue Trust (MVT) distribute £230K to 24 grassroots music venues in crisis following its #saveourvenues campaign; other music fundraisers have spanned festivals to coffee and streaming site United We Stream, which has attracted millions of viewers and raised over £580K with everything from Hacienda parties to Marketing Manchester’s documentary premiere (below).

While December 2020 saw more funding from the £1.57 billion recovery fund, including The Factory and 200 independent cinemas, it continued to be a tough ride for all the cultural sector - as we outlined in our article on the initial placing of Greater Manchester into Tier 3 (where it somewhat controversially remained on the next review, 16 December, before entering the even more restrictive Tier 4 on 30 December).

The announcement of a third national lockdown on 4 January saw increasingly urgent calls for a roadmap amidst fears for venues across the spectrum; from museums and galleries to theatres and cinemas. As for music, though organisations like MVT (which was recently able to remove 13 sites from its ‘red list’) continue to make headway in saving grassroots venues, many still face an uncertain future: GM Mayor Andy Burnham has argued that record labels should help bail out small music venues that are struggling to survive during the pandemic in a similar vein to his entreaty that major retailers' business rates relief be used to help those who urgently need financial support.

Last week saw the final awards allocated from the first round of the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund, providing relief to some. With the PM’s recent roadmap confirming a long wait still lies ahead, however, it will take more action from chancellor Rishi Sunak to ensure the whole industry makes it over the final lockdown hurdle.     

Read more: Roadmap out of lockdown: What's the picture for hospitality?