An announcement that indoor music venues, theatres, and performance spaces across England can open from August 1 has been questioned by industry experts, who suggest that in many cases the plan isn’t financially viable.
The July 17 announcement, made by Boris Johnson and confirmed by culture secretary Oliver Dowden in a subsequent tweet, marks “stage four” on the country’s “road map for culture” in the wake of nationwide coronavirus lockdowns and event cancellations.
The plan also states that audiences will be required to adhere to social distancing during indoor performances and that venues will run with reduced capacity and deep cleaning requirements.
However, the Music Venues Trust has questioned whether the guidelines will work for grassroots venues, especially if pilot performances don’t take place there.
From 1 August socially distanced audiences can return for indoor performances in theatres, music halls and other venues. This builds on pilots with @londonsymphony and others. So pleased to make progress to Stage 4 of our road map for culture. pic.twitter.com/Js7dQUghZ6
“It should be noted that we have already provided evidence to the government that staging live events with any level of social distancing measures would not be financially viable for the majority of grassroots music venues,” a spokesperson for the industry body tells the Guardian. “The progress towards normality within the sector will require subsidy for the date of August 1 to have any noticeable impact upon the number of shows actually taking place.”
Back in May, when Dazed spoke to six UK independent venues affected by the lockdown, Gareth Barber – director of Esquires, Bedford – made a similar statement. “If we are expected to reopen at a reduced capacity, with social distancing measures in place and extra staff to enforce this, I believe this could signal the end for venues much quicker than being told to stay shut,” Bedford said. “It just won’t work.”
Earlier this week, two of Manchester’s much-loved music venues, Deaf Institute and Gorilla, announced that they would have to close for good as a result of the financial fallout of coronavirus.
Spokespeople for other industries, such as theatre and comedy, have also – despite welcoming the idea of venues returning to operating as “normal” – expressed doubts about the financial viability of reopening with restrictions in place since the unveiling of the government plan on Friday.