Arts & Culture

Theatres, museums and heritage sites in the UK struggling to survive

Theatres, museums, castles and other heritage sites and visitor attractions in the UK are being forced to cut costs in order to survive. 

According to a survey conducted by market research agency OnePoll and commissioned by Ecclesiastical Insurance, organisations like this are making staff redundant, turning down the heating, closing off rooms to the public and shutting early to cut costs. 

The research found that nine out of 10 sites are fearing for their future with 84% of respondents having to slash costs to remain open. The survey featured responses from 500 ‘decision makers’ from heritage organisations across the UK, including museums, galleries, theatres, hotels, castles and stately homes. 

Ecclesiastical Insurance’s Faith Kitchen told the Observer: “Nine in 10 heritage leaders are really concerned about their organisation’s future. Many heritage organisations – not just one or two – will be at risk of closure in the next few years if costs continue to rise. That’s pretty shocking and sad.”

Almost half of the respondents said they were having to make staff redundant, with many also saying that they had to cut opening hours. With rising fuel and energy prices plaguing the UK, 42% of respondents said they were limiting rooms that were open and heated, while 39% also said they were restricting public access by opening on fewer days. 

Some 45% said they were renegotiating contracts with existing suppliers, which would also take its toll on those in the chain. 

Heritage sites in the UK have already been forced to close, such as Nottingham castle (gates pictured). Its trust confirmed in November last year that it would be closing as visitor levels fell significantly below the 300,000 a year predicted after its three-year, £33m ($40m/€38m) renovation. 

Kitchen added: “That, to me, really stands out because normally – in any other economic time – to have that refurbishment, you would then expect that to be a really successful aspect for the local community. 

“But because of the cost of living, the community aren’t able to support it in terms of visitors. The whole landscape is different post-pandemic.”

Further closures in 2022 include Eastleigh Museum in Hampshire and Strutt’s North Mill Museum in Derbyshire.

Jon Morgan, director of the Theatres Trust, which is a national advisory public body for theatres, said that many organisations have had to rely on reserves to survive, with audiences still not reaching pre-pandemic levels. 

“Outside London, there’s something like 17% lower audiences on average compared with pre-pandemic levels,” Morgan told the Observer. “The cost of living crisis isn’t going to help with that. So you’ve got reduced reserves, reduced income and cost pressures, of which energy costs are the most significant. It’s very tough now.”