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London’s Southbank Centre unlikely to reopen until April 2021

London’s Southbank Centre has announced it is unlikely to reopen its doors until at least April 2021 due to the “crippling” economic impact of COVID-19.

The UK’s largest arts centre has said there will be “hardly any artistic activity” throughout the 2020-21 calendar as presenting a normal range of events would lead to losses rising to about £11m, “given the restrictions that social distancing impose on the ability to realise workable ticket revenue”.

The Southbank Centre, which presents more than 3,500 events a year – of which 40 per cent are free – is forecasting a best-case scenario of a £5m loss at the end of 2020-21 financial year.

However, it adds that in arriving at this position, the organisation will have used up all its reserves and be in deficit, will have needed £4m in support from the Government furlough scheme and will have used the remainder of its annual grant from Arts Council England to effectively mothball the buildings. It added that there will be a need to make some staff redundant.

The mandatory closure of the Southbank Centre’s venues, bars and restaurants has led to the “immediate and catastrophic” loss of 60 per cent of its income.

The venue has now joined the numerous industry voices calling on the government to support the sector through various key recommendations. These include extending the furlough scheme beyond October for the cultural sector, developing a large-scale intervention to support the arts sector, and supporting those self-employed artists and musicians who do not qualify under the current financial support schemes.

Elaine Bedell, chief executive of Southbank Centre, said: “It is with an incredibly heavy heart that we today share further details about the future of the Southbank Centre. We know we are not alone in this and stand with our friends, partners, and colleagues – both here in the UK and abroad – during this time of unprecedented challenge.

“With eight orchestras, the National Poetry Library, and Arts Council Collection all calling us home, and playing host to over 4.45 million visitors each year, we’re doing all we can to safeguard the Southbank Centre we currently know and love for the years ahead. However, this crisis has hit hard, and we join a number of other organisations and venues in sounding the alarm about the long-term health of UK arts and culture.”

The news comes as the Southbank Centre makes preparations to cancel events from September to November 2020 and is also considering the option of broadcasting concerts from behind closed doors through to spring of next year.

It follows an ever-increasing list of UK venues struggling to remain afloat during the COVID-19 shutdown of live events.

Last week, the Royal Lyceum theatre in Edinburgh announced losses of more than £700,000 and warned employees that they could be made redundant as it enters a “period of hibernation”.

In addition, the Royal National Theatre in London has informed staff that it is looking to make 20 to 30 per cent of its workforce redundant due to COVID-19 pressures.

On the same day, a new cultural taskforce was set up in the UK with representatives from the arts, cultural and sporting worlds coming together to help recreation and leisure sectors reopen following COVID-19.

As part of the Cultural Renewal taskforce (focusing on recreation and leisure), an Entertainment and Events Working Group has been created, bringing together representatives to develop advice and guidance on the reopening of cultural venues, helping to get employees back to work and audiences engaging with the cultural sector.

The group will work with organisations such as Society of London Theatres (SOLT), UK Theatre and Arts Council England (ACE), as well as include representatives from regional and London-based theatres, performing arts and other creative organisations, as well as medical advisors.

It will focus on considering how to begin rehearsing and producing theatre, music, film and dance. The group will also consider the potential implications of a return to work for both disabled artists and audiences and the work of suppliers in the sector.

Image: Victor Frankowski