Arena, Garrick, Gatehouse and Claptrap among venues confirmed to receive government help

Newhampton Arts Centre in Wolverhampton, Lichfield’s Garrick Theatre and the Birmingham Royal Ballet are among hundreds of arts venues and organisations confirmed to receive a share of £257 million to help them survive.

Newhampton Arts Centre in Wholverhampton. Pic: Jamie Baker
Newhampton Arts Centre in Wholverhampton. Pic: Jamie Baker

The Government cash is part of a £1.6 billion Culture Recovery Fund to help protect more than 1,300 places hit by Covid-19 which “form the soul of our nation”, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said.

Recipients in the West Midlands will receive almost £17m, with the funding aimed at helping performances restart, assisting venues to plan for reopening and protecting jobs.

They include Birmingham Royal Ballet, which has been given £500,000 to help off-set the loss of earnings from performances and touring. Lichfield Garrick Theatre got £279,446, while The Guild of St Mary’s Centre in the city received £64,126.

Newhampton Arts Centre and Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton have been given £95,151 and £50,000 respectively, while Steel Mill Events, which runs the KK’s Steel Mill venue in the city, was handed £117,000.

The People’s Orchestra in Sandwell received £54,000, while there was also £50,000 for the Black Country Dance Hub in Walsall, £80,000 for Claptrap The Venue in Stourbridge and £57,900 for The River Rooms in the town, as well as £250,000 for Stafford's Gatehouse Theatre.

Neil Reading, artistic director at Arena Theatre, said the investment was “crucial” and would allow the theatre to tackle “the unique situation the industry finds itself in at this time”.

The Arena Theatre, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton

He added: “We will be installing state-of-the-art equipment into the Arena which will allow us to return to serving our diverse audiences across the Black Country and beyond.”

Neil Reading, artistic director at Arena Theatre, said the investment was “crucial” and would allow the theatre to tackle “the unique situation the industry finds itself in at this time”. He added: “We will be installing state of the art equipment into the Arena which will allow us to return to serving our diverse audiences across the Black Country and beyond.”

Jemma Harrison, from the Gatehouse, said: “The funding will give us the best possible start to the Spring programme, for which we are hugely grateful.

Garrick Theatre, Lichfield, will get £279,446

“We will endeavour to use this funding to continue our work – making theatre accessible to all – and to support the breadth of creative talent in the region who are still in vital need of assistance and support.”

Michael Fabricant, the MP for Lichfield, said: “These Government awards will help keep arts venues alive during this difficult Covid-19 period.

“I am delighted that two Lichfield arts centres have been awarded grants worth more than £343,000.

Stafford Gatehouse Theatre will get £250,000

"With the expectation that a combination of vaccine and drug treatments will render Covid-19 less dangerous in the spring and beyond, our theatres and performance spaces will be able to return to normal for most of 2021.

"The importance of these grants is to keep them alive until then.”

Wolverhampton South West MP Stuart Anderson, said: “This first round of funding will help local venues to weather the financial impact of Coronavirus.”

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Swan Lake

Other recipients of funding include Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club, Bristol’s Old Vic theatre and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Andrew Lovett, chairman of the Association of Independent Museums whose members across the country are accessing parts of the cash, said: “I cannot overstate the significance of the announcements.

"This support isn’t spending. It is an investment in something that people of this country value deeply with pride, fascination and affection," added Mr Lovett, who is also Black Country Living Museum (BCLM) chief executive.

The River Rooms in Stourbridge

"We all know that huge challenges remain, including those large and familiar civic museums in our major towns and cities, and I feel especially awful for those people working in museums who have already lost their jobs.

"This Government funding is putting the breaks on the decline we have all seen since Covid-19 struck.”

Sir Nicholas Serota, the chairman of Arts Council England, which is distributing the money, said: “Theatres, museums, galleries, dance companies and music venues bring joy to people and life to our cities, towns and villages.

“This is a difficult time for us all, but this first round of funding from the Culture Recovery Fund will help sustain hundreds of cultural spaces and organisations that are loved and admired by local communities and international audiences."

Claptrap The Venue will receive £80,000

Mr Dowden said: “This funding is a vital boost for the theatres, music venues, museums and cultural organisations that form the soul of our nation.

"It will protect these special places, save jobs and help the culture sector’s recovery.”

All recipients so far are for applications of less than £1m, with future releases of up to £3m going to larger organisations later this month.

Panto hopes for fairytale ending

The full line-up of stars for last year's panto at Birmingham Hippodrome

Meanwhile, Birmingham Hippodrome has not been able to confirm whether its pantomime will be able to go ahead this Christmas, despite a nationwide campaign being unveiled to help support pantos.

The National Lottery scheme, dubbed Operation Sleeping Beauty by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, will be rolled out across the country but it’s too early to tell which theatres will be involved.

Many venues have already postponed their annual pantos.

Wolverhampton Grand has pushed its Cinderella pantomime back to Christmas next year, and Birmingham Hippodrome was also forced to cancel its production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

The Hippodrome is, however, believed to be the most likely to be chosen to receive National Lottery finding to put on shows with a reduced capacity.

Its bosses said while they can’t confirm whether the panto will be back this year, they are in talks with a number of producers about how to safely set up their shows again.

Hippodrome spokeswoman Jenna Hadley said: “We are discussing the viability of socially distanced productions with a number of producers and will announce any future programming in due course.

"In the meantime, we opened the UK premiere of Van Gogh Alive last week and look forward to welcome visitors to this experience until at least the end of December.”

The scheme will see the National Lottery buy seats that need to remain empty to enable social-distancing, making productions more viable for producers.

The first such show to use the system will be Pantoland at The London Palladium. The Lottery will also be providing free tickets for players to win, plus bonus prizes.

Mr Dowden said: “We have launched Operation Sleeping Beauty. We must hope for the best and plan for the worst.

"Our hope is to get some pantos back on this Christmas, and despite the very challenging backdrop we are going to give it our best.”

Further details, including venues taking part in the scheme, are expected in the coming weeks.

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