Museums, galleries, cinemas, theatre and music venues will be forced to close under new rules

Thursday’s tier placement announcement, which will see Greater Manchester relegated to the strictest Tier 3 post-lockdown, caused consternation on several fronts. GM Mayor Andy Burnham questioned the level of business support given to those in the highest tier (also expressing his hope that falling infection rates would see the region in Tier 2 by Christmas) while MP for Altrincham & Sale West Sir Graham Brady is one of several Tory backbenchers questioning the evidence for the new system - calling it a ‘very serious infringement of fundamental human rights’ - and some have suggested the South is once again getting preferential treatment. Those in hospitality, meanwhile, have decried both tiers 2 and 3 as ‘yet another hammer blow for the industry.’

2020 11 26 Tier 3 Pedros 2
For hospitality and culture venues, Tier 3 is essentially a third lockdown

But, elsewhere, yet another argument has arisen…that of the new tiered system’s impact on our cultural venues. Tier 3 will see museums, cinemas and galleries closed - just after many had finally put measures in place to reopen - while music, comedy and theatre venues will also be forced to again shut their doors after a journey that has arguably been even more turbulent. While social distancing rules made reopening unfeasible for some, adapting to COVID-safe standards for those again welcoming audiences was a hard-won gain (for which one theatre even received abuse). Reduced capacities hitting profit margins, having to repeatedly cancel or postpone shows - often after months of investment in rehearsals and publicity - and the loss of important revenue streams like food and drink are but a few of the additional obstacles live performance venues have faced this year.

After the crushing blow of another national lockdown, some subsequent developments offered a glimmer of cultural hope; the furlough scheme was extended, offering extra security to venues still unable to open profitably, while funding announcements included the latest round of the £1.57 billion recovery fund and spending review investments such as £60 million for museum and gallery maintenance. However, as we revealed in our critique of the planned £120 million Festival UK* 2022, questionable government spending is still leaving many people in hardship and places threatened with closure.  

2020 11 27 Retrofit Get In Nicholas Prescott The Meteor
A former arts worker helps retrofit homes as part of climate activism project Retrofit Get-in. With redundancies rife in the culture sector, many are now using their skills in other industries Nicholas Prescott/The Meteor

Needless to say, the shackles of Tier 3 (especially over key festive season) stands to worsen the situation further - and leaders are questioning why people are supposedly safer in the permitted likes of shops and gyms than cultural venues. Many have additionally pointed to cultural venues’ role in wellbeing, echoing artist Grayson Perry’s sentiment that they are much-needed ‘gyms for the soul.’ While some are offering digital content, this isn’t comparable to a physical visit and can also be exclusive.

Only a day before the tier announcement, Manchester City Council published a plan setting out ‘how Manchester will emerge reinvigorated from the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges’ - but the impact of Tier 3 on culture and hospitality has again threatened the city-region’s ability to recover.

As Luthfur Rahman OBE - executive member for culture, leisure and skills - said in an appeal to ministers: ‘This continued closure will have a further devastating impact; and not just on the future viability of venues, or on people's jobs in the sector. The knock-on negative impact it will have on connected businesses and the wider economy is immense and cannot be overstated.’

Added Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese: ‘(The Tier 3) announcement will be devastating for some, especially those in the hospitality and cultural sectors, and we call on the Government to provide better supported for those affected. It is essential that livelihoods are protected.’

Read more: Manchester back in Tier 3 from December