Yesterday, in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, Boris encouraged the UK to ‘avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues’.
Surely, given the advice that medical and scientific professionals, or certainly those who claim to be on social media, have been giving – this doesn’t sound too daft? Social distancing is being explained as one of the most effective ways to slow down and hopefully stop the spread of COVID-19, as this will lessen the spread from those carrying the virus passing it on. Especially to more vulnerable people in the community. So, avoiding large groups of people certainly seems like the most sensible thing to do at the moment.
However unfortunately this approach does and will lead to problems for many people, especially those working and making a living from the events industry. This includes theatres, arenas, sporting venues, social clubs, pubs, nightclubs, and other social and recreational venues.
Yes, closing these venues may well be the best foot forward in stopping the Coronavirus from growing. And, yes, most of the people working in the events and cultural sector recognise this. So what’s the problem here?
The issue sits with the Government’s current approach to the situation. Unlike other countries that have called for an entire lockdown, enforcing venues to close, Boris has just suggested it. Because the Government hasn’t yet made it a mandatory precaution, it means that these businesses aren’t able to claim compensation or financial support. The Government has offered no actual backing to the events industry in this case, so venues, artists, managers and staff have been left to fend for themselves.
This puts each cultural venue in the country in an impossible situation of either closing and going with this vague advice and ‘do the right thing’, or remaining open for now and being made to look like money hungry villains.
The arts and social industry in the UK is a fragile one. With many businesses still struggling after the 2008 recession, and a lack of funding through the Tory Government for the arts, many venues have to survive day by day, event by event or as charities fundraising to be able to stay open. This doesn’t even take into account the many freelancers working in events and culture, that don’t have the safety net of a guaranteed wage from an employer. Or the thousands of people relying on temporary and zero hour contracts for income.
Across the course of today, and possibly over the next few weeks depending on any further lofty information offered by Johnson, I suspect we will see a significant increase of venues closing and both small and large scale events being cancelled and postponed. Theatres in the West End of London and the Sunderland Empire have already announced closures until further notice. The Ambassador Theatre Group (who manage Sunderland Empire Theatre) released a statement last night, citing;
“Given the current ambiguity and lack of clarity as to how long our theatres may be closed for, we hope to provide you with an update within the next 48 hours regarding the exchange of tickets.”
And the Tyne Theatre and Opera House on Westgate Road issued yesterday;
“In response to the Prime Minister’s announcement today for us all to avoid non-essential social contact, we are liaising with promoters and organisers of our forthcoming events. We will keep you informed of the status of all shows as soon as possible.”
It goes without saying that times are extremely difficult for our theatres and performance venues right now. So, please, if you have tickets for upcoming shows be mindful of this, and know that they are currently doing everything in their power to muddle through the situation as it stands, with limited guidance or information from the Government.
Please, please, please be patient and show some kindness to the incredible staff who are being bombarded with questions from ticket holders and customers. They may be at risk of losing their jobs and likely know as much as you for now, but are still trying their hardest to find ways to keep their customers happy, as well as keeping the venue afloat.
It’s heartbreaking to write about, but there are venues in the UK who are now in very real danger of closing for good, and staff who may lose their jobs indefinitely. While this is a scary and difficult time for everyone in the UK, if you can do anything small to help your local community theatre, or the historical venue in your city that relies on charity to stay open and keep the building running, then any small gesture would surely be greatly appreciated. Even if it’s just words of support, as our event industry is definitely not receiving anything like that from Boris Johnson or the Government at the moment.