Struggling live music venues, theatres and museums in Lincoln are among the list of sites able to access emergency grants, following a government pledge of £1.57 billion – but it may not be enough to keep them afloat.
The grants are available to cultural organisations across the U.K. and come after a severe downturn in the arts industry, as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown.
However, local venues in Lincoln are still unsure of their future, as the bulk of the funding will go towards ‘crown jewel’ sites, such as the Royal Albert Hall.
Smaller venues, such as the New Theatre Royal Lincoln, are wary. A spokesperson said: “This is fantastic news but until we know what rural theatres will receive, we can’t celebrate.”
The theatre, which celebrated its 125th birthday in 2018, is concerned about not being able to support its workers, with a member of staff recently having a baby.
The Engine Shed, Lincolnshire’s largest live music and entertainment venue, has also been severely affected by the closure.
Lincoln Students’ Union Trading Limited, the company that operates the Engine Shed, has seen all of its venues suddenly shut due to the lockdown.
Their loss of income is approximately £1 million to date.
A member of The Engine Shed team said: “The effect on our venues cannot be underestimated. Whilst the furlough scheme has been a lifeline so far, when this ends, if we have no income, then it is going to be very difficult to balance the books.
“If we are not able to open to our normal capacity levels, we do not see, at this stage, how operating will be viable in the medium to long term.”
As life gradually begins to return to some semblance of normal, with shops, restaurants and bars beginning to reopen, sites such as the New Theatre Royal Lincoln simply cannot open their doors until the lockdown is completely lifted, as it is impossible to socially distance in their small theatre.
The possible closure of these venues could also severely affect the careers of the new, up-and-coming artists who depend on them.
Sükko, an indie-rock band based across Norfolk and Lincoln, is concerned about the impact this could have.
The band’s guitarist and producer, Eliot Clarke, who is also a student at the University of Lincoln, said the venues are crucial to the industry.
“[They] give young and emerging artists a platform to perform and develop their live sound and act in front of an audience. So many mainstream artists will have passed through local venues, aiding to their progression as musicians.
“Small venues are also great for music lovers. They offer an intimate environment, allowing fans to get up close to the band. There’s nothing better than discovering a band at the earliest point in their career and watching them progress,” said Mr Clarke.
Local music venues are important for aspiring musicians, allowing them to gain a following and network with other artists. They also present opportunities for wider promotion, such as through BBC Introducing.
“Without local venues, the industry lacks a platform for raw and emerging talent to develop their sound and perform live, as well as breaking into such a competitive market,” said Mr Clarke.
As more staff are being made redundant, he also emphasised that the value of sound technicians and engineers is often forgotten.
University of Lincoln students shared their thoughts.
Abbi Brooks-Halling said: “Smaller music venues are good for people that struggle with anxiety and for people with autism, due to their high senses such as sound and touch.”
Another student, Lizzie Saunders, said: “I think if smaller venues closed, it would severely affect young musicians – a lot of talented people usually start out in smaller places.”
As local sites in Lincoln struggle financially, they’ve appealed to the public for help.
The New Theatre Royal Lincoln urged anyone who bought tickets for a show that has now been rescheduled to keep the money in the theatre and watch the show later, rather than requesting refunds.
They added that donations are highly appreciated.
The Engine Shed also encouraged the use of venues when they reopen and asked customers to be considerate of the situation.
“Venues need your support by buying tickets to events and then using the venues. Most venues have had to let a lot of staff leave and we have received a few instances of quite rude emails and contacts from some customers who have not appreciated that all but one of our staff members have been furloughed.
“It is a very difficult time for everyone, but especially for the hospitality industry, so an understanding that staff are doing the best they can in troubling and uncertain times is appreciated,” said the Engine Shed team.
Further details on the funding scheme and the application process will be released by the government within the coming weeks.