Fears still rife in Portsmouth culture sector despite world leading £1.57bn rescue package

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SMALLER arts organisations are still fighting for survival even after a government rescue package of £1.57bn for the sector in Britain.

Organisations involved in performing arts and theatres, heritage,, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema will be able to access emergency grants and loans.

As reported, the money announced last week will provide a lifeline to vital cultural and heritage organisations across the country hit hard by the pandemic by helping them stay afloat while their doors are closed.

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Funding to restart paused projects will also help support employment, including freelancers working in these sectors.

Stakeholders of Portsmouth Creates from left to right: Victorious Festival organiser James Ralls, chairman Tim Rusby, Cllr Steve Pitt and Professor Trevor Keeble. Picture: Portsmouth CreatesStakeholders of Portsmouth Creates from left to right: Victorious Festival organiser James Ralls, chairman Tim Rusby, Cllr Steve Pitt and Professor Trevor Keeble. Picture: Portsmouth Creates
Stakeholders of Portsmouth Creates from left to right: Victorious Festival organiser James Ralls, chairman Tim Rusby, Cllr Steve Pitt and Professor Trevor Keeble. Picture: Portsmouth Creates

But despite the unprecedented bail-out, those in the sector have raised questions over the scheme – and the city council said there was ‘no clarity’ over who will benefit.

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Portsmouth's cultural sector reacts to £1.57 billion support announced by govern...

Tim Rusby, chair of Portsmouth Creates, a city cultural community, said the announcement was ‘very welcome’ and a ‘clear and positive signal from Whitehall that culture matters’.

But he added: ‘What we can’t yet say, is what level of positive impact this injection will have locally, given the enormity of the crisis facing the sector.

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‘Our biggest concern is perhaps the impact of the pandemic on the smaller organisations and businesses and individual creative practitioners and freelancers who have little or no resilience or reserves.

‘No plans have emerged yet as to how they might be helped to survive, which is why we as an organisation are now working with Portsmouth City Council, Shaping Portsmouth and a huge array of other committed partners in the city to develop and deliver a local, proactive action plan.

‘In order for our city’s vibrant, unique and varied cultural ecosystem to survive, it is vital that all of those in city working in the sector unite and work together to support one another.’

A spokeswoman for the city council said the authority was ‘pleased the government has finally announced support’ but admitted there were still grave problems ahead.

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‘Although government is now indicating there is a route to limited re-openings, the reality is that with capacities dramatically reduced and the range of performances restricted in order to be Covid-19 safe, most will continue to be under immense financial pressure for the foreseeable future,’ the spokeswoman said.

‘Our cultural industries are of huge value to the United Kingdom contributing over £23b annually and were a focal point for huge growth prior to the pandemic.

‘They also provide enormous revenue to a host of other business sectors, including bars, restaurants, taxi firms, hotels and guest houses. Without our cultural venues, our country would be considerably impoverished both economically and socially.’

The spokeswoman added: ‘As yet there is no clarity as to who will benefit from the funding and to what extent. We urge the government to produce this information quickly before we lose more businesses.

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‘It is also vital that the specialist skills held by hundreds of thousands of employees across our cultural industries are not lost and more support needs to be provided.’

Among those concerned about staying afloat is Groundlings Theatre in Kent Street, which was placed on a list of theatres that could close even before the pandemic struck.

Helen Gibbs, chair of the trust which took over the theatre from Richard Stride earlier this year, said of the government funding: ‘It’s absolutely excellent news but we don’t know what impact it will have on the theatre.

‘We don’t know how accessible it will be or what grants we will be entitled to. It is very much an unknown, though any help is gratefully received.

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‘We have a grant from the Arts Council which takes us up to the end of the year but the situation is uncertain after that. If we knew the situation then we could start planning especially as they are suggesting theatres could open in the new year.’

Josh Brown, of Portsmouth Poetry, said: ‘The government funding is a large sum of money and is very welcome - they should be congratulated for acting.

‘But the impact (of the pandemic) is going to be long term so it raises questions over whether the money will be enough. I don’t think it will be.

‘We just have to hope things pan out well but it is highly unlikely there will be no casualties.’

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Prime minister Boris Johnson said earlier this month: ‘This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down.’

High-profile industry figures backed the government intervention. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber was one of them.

He said: ‘It is absolutely critical that Britain’s cultural sector is restored to health as soon as possible and I look forward to seeing the details of the rescue package and working further with the government to get all of Britain’s theatres - both large and small - open as soon as possible.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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