ARTS venues suffering after almost four months of lockdown, have welcomed a £1.57bn rescue package aimed at assuring their survival.

The assistance package – thought to be the largest support programme of its kind in the world – is intended to protect the future of theatres, museums, galleries, independent cinemas and music venues. The Government said the money “represents the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture” and will help struggling institutions “stay afloat while their doors are closed”.

Oxfordshire venues, including the Oxford Playhouse, joined Arts Council England and the Music Venue Trust in welcoming the assistance, though were unaware of how much aid they would be receiving.

The package includes a £1.15bn pot for cultural organisations like the Playhouse, made up of £880m in grants and £270m in affordable loans.

The Oxford Playhouse has been among the hardest hit local arts organisation, reeling from a lack of ticket sales after being forced to close in March. While technically allowed to open under relaxed lockdown restrictions, the Beaumont Street theatre still faces a ban on staging live entertainment. Having already furloughed most of its staff, it last week announced plans for redundancies.

It last week joined other Oxford arts venues including The North Wall in Summertown, Pegasus youth theatre in East Oxford and Chipping Norton Theatre, in lighting up the front of the theatre in red, to highlight its plight.

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The Playhouse, which last week hosted an hour-long fundraising comedy show featuring Stephen Fry, Marcus Brigstocke and Lucy Porter, broadcast online from the empty theatre, is to receive £150,000 from the Arts Council with further aid likely to come.

Director Louise Chantal said: “None of us working in the arts was expecting the largest rescue package for culture in the world to be announced this week. Of course, a huge number of people have been advocating for support tirelessly since mid-March, with thousands writing to their MPs to beg the Government to save theatres and galleries from bankruptcy while their doors are close.

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The Oxford Playhouse and other theatres lit up their frontages in red to highlight their plight

“This funding is a testament to the essential role culture plays in Britain and beyond. Every Netflix special, every international No.1 tune, every animated game is generated by talent discovered, nurtured and supported by the UK creative industries. It was inconceivable (we hoped) that the Treasury would watch the demise of an entire sector worth £10.3bn to the UK economy and employing 700,000 people. But £1.57bn of support is unprecedented both in size and sheer audacity.

“Over 70 per cent of theatre professionals are freelance, and many have fallen through the gaps of the coronavirus job retention schemes thus far. More than 350,000 people in the recreation and leisure sector have been furloughed since the pandemic began, including 85 per cent of the staff at the Playhouse. We had already begun a consultation on redundancies to prepare for the withdrawal of that scheme. We now need to wait to see what the details of the extra funding will be and how it might affect the redundancy plans.”

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“Of course, this fund won’t make survival easy, but it will make it possible. It sounds a lot, but £1.57bn doesn’t make up for up to 12 months of lost income for a £10bn sector. We will still need to fundraise and still need to reach high sales targets once we do reopen.

“We will be forced to cut costs and diversify income streams and sweat any asset at our disposal, but the future of British culture has been saved and we could not be more grateful.”

The package was also welcomed by The North Wall arts centre, at St Edward’s School. The venue closed its doors on March 17, cancelling a packed programme of shows, exhibitions and festivals. Most staff have also been furloughed with the venue also waiting for information from the Government on when it can reopen.

Co-director Ria Parry said: “We are very thankful for the package of support that has been pledged by the Government. It is incredibly positive, welcome news and a huge relief for the sector.

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The North Wall, Summertown

“There is still much to do, but we are allowing ourselves to hope now, in a way that had started to seem unimaginable over the last few days as we collectively watched the rise of redundancy announcements and potential permanent closures across the UK theatre industry.”

She added: “There has been significant campaigning to get to this point, and it is now vital that these funds reach freelancers and companies as well as venues. We are now awaiting the detail which will enable us to plan properly for the forthcoming months. We are standing by to reopen whenever it is safe to do so; we absolutely want to welcome our audiences and community back to The North Wall as soon as possible, but to do this we need publication of dates and further guidance from the Government.”

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Polly Cole, executive director of Pegasus said: “All of us at Pegasus are delighted to hear the Government’s announcement of a £1.57bn package of support for our world-class arts, culture and heritage sector.

“This commitment recognises the huge nationwide social and economic impact made by the sector. We look forward to further details and clarity about the funds available. We don’t yet know what this will mean for Pegasus but we are hopeful that this will help all of our cultural organisations in Oxford and the talented artists and technicians we work with, to not just survive this crisis but thrive long in to the future.

“In the meantime, Pegasus is working hard towards opening its doors as soon as it is safe to do so. We have recently launched a fundraising appeal and the support of our audiences and friends will remain vitally important as we plan for the future. We’re very grateful to those who have given their support already.”

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The Old Fire Station

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “From iconic theatre and musicals, mesmerising exhibitions at our world-class galleries to gigs performed in local basement venues, the UK’s cultural industry is the beating heart of this country.“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.”

Arts Council England chairman Sir Nicholas Serota said the package was a “very significant investment”.

Creative organisations will be “serving their communities and helping the nation recover as we emerge from the pandemic”, he said.