Were you not prepared for the onset of COVID-19/Coronavirus?
Like many other theatres and venues Norwich Theatre has been monitoring the onset of Coronavirus for some time and we have been scenario-planning for a number of months. We would always have been losing income and incurring costs if the virus made it to the UK.
The scale of the spread of the virus and the speed with which it has spread were both beyond our worst case scenarios. In addition, the speed at which the Government moved to advise people against going to theatres and the fact that we were given no advance notice of this announcement has intensified the impact and increase our financial losses.
Do you not have insurance?
Very few organisations have insurance against a pandemic and Norwich Theatre does not have this. However, we have insurance again ‘Prevention of Access’ to our buildings.
The government made a decision not to order the closure of theatres (thereby ‘preventing access’) but instead to advise the public not to attend. This may not seem an important distinction but it is the difference for us between being able to access £250,000 of insurance cover and not as our insurance needs an order of this nature to be invoked. Not having this insurance cover has intensified our concern for the future viability of our venues and if we can’t access this then it will see the costs of closure to us grow even further.
Do you not have reserves?
While we do have a level of general reserves, following significant investment in the construction of Stage Two in 2016, the levels of free cash we hold are relatively low and have already been factored into our scenario-planning. They are not sufficient to allow us to operate without income from our shows for any sustained period of time.
Can you not use the Business Rates relief that the Chancellor announces?
Many theatres and venues, including Norwich Theatre, are registered charities. As registered charities most theatres and venues benefit from discretionary business rates relief, paying significantly less than purely commercial businesses. Norwich Theatre in 2020/21 was budgeting to pay Business Rates of £54,000 and this has already been factored into our recovery plan and we have diverted these funds directly to supporting our most vulnerable staff (those on zero hours and freelance contracts) beyond what we are contractually obliged to do.
What about the Local Authorities and the Arts Council?
Norwich Theatre receives no regular public funding and, whilst we have excellent relationships with Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council and Arts Council England, we are not part of the portfolios of funded organisations. At present none of these bodies have launched emergency funds for charities like Norwich Theatre in response to COVID-19/Coronavirus and it is currently not clear whether they will and, if they do, whether we would be eligible for support.