Wigan arts organisations welcome funding package but warn more to do to save sector

Al and Al in The Fire Within HQAl and Al in The Fire Within HQ
Al and Al in The Fire Within HQ
The Government has promised a massive £1.57bn to support culture.

Creatives and cultural bodies in the borough said the funding was vital to safeguard jobs and ensure the arts survived the Covid-19 pandemic.

Culture has been praised both for its enhancement of residents’ quality of life and for the contribution it makes to the economy.

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However, across the borough the message to ministers was clear that more will need to be done to support the industry and to ensure that it is not just the biggest and most high-profile names which receive help.

David Jenkins at The Old CourtsDavid Jenkins at The Old Courts
David Jenkins at The Old Courts

The money comes at a perilous moment for the arts sector, with at least one theatre having already closed and other culture organisations consulting on mass redundancy schemes as they cannot currently put on work for paying audiences.

The Government is now being urged to get the publicised cash into the hands of arts bodies as quickly as possible for any more cuts are made.

David Jenkins, managing director at The Old Courts, said: “The announcement from central government is obviously a welcome one that the cultural sector absolutely needs.

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“Without wanting to stray away from what is a huge positive, the devil is in the detail.

Ian DarringtonIan Darrington
Ian Darrington

“The effect of Covid-19 on The Old Courts and its associated projects has been severe.As an organisation that has no regular Arts Council funding and relies on earned income we have seen 85 per cent of our revenue cease. In monetary terms over £2m has been lost.

“The past 100 or so days have been the hardest ever and have taken a deep toll on whole teams in the cultural, heritage and community sector, not just because of the uncertainty or constant budgeting required to work out how to keep the electric on, but because of ensuring the freelance sector has access to opportunity and support for grants and programmes, ensuring the community continues to be provided with the host of wellbeing and health benefits that arts and culture provide, and ensuring we are prepared for the role our sector plays in the recovery of our communities.”

Mr Jenkins also called on the Government to reassess the furlough scheme, saying it was a “lifesaver” for The Old Courts, but would not be effective if it was stopped before venues can host live performances again.

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Al and Al, the artists curating The Fire Within based in Wigan town centre, said: “The arts funding is great news. What has been clear to everyone from day one of the Covid-19 crisis is culture and the arts is a fundamental part of our life.

“Where would we have all been during lockdown without all the music and film to watch and listen to?

“Witnessing the empty museums, galleries, gig venues, theatres, concert halls and stadiums only amplified how fundamental arts and culture is to our economy, our health and wellbeing.

“Every penny spent on arts and culture brings untold riches to the economy and our life experience. Just before this crisis hit, Wigan was being celebrated across the nation for The Fire Within’s ground-breaking manifesto and approach to supporting the amazing generation of local talent which is emerging.

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“We are hoping this announcement will continue to help the town’s cultural communities pioneer a new chapter inspired by Wigan’s magnificent heritage.”

Ian Darrington, the organiser of Wigan International Jazz Festival, said: “This is a massive industry for the UK. It is world renowned and a massive income generator.

“The danger is that with so many large theatres in London and similar arts groups the biggest amount will be absorbed by the capital and by the time we get to places like Wigan we will be struggling.

“Most freelance musicians have seen work and income cut to zero. We have to try to get live performances back. This is obviously a step forward.

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“I just hope that communities in the north and other parts of the country outside London are able to benefit.”

Elizabeth Costello, development director at Leigh Film Society, echoed similar concerns.

She said: “This is definitely needed and I really hope it saves jobs. We need to save the arts.

“I just hope money gets cascaded down to community level. Grassroots culture is vital and it’s at that level that we will rebuild our communities and bring people back together.”

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Alan Gregory, the co-founder of ballet not-for-profit group Pianos, Pies and Pirouettes, said that, for smaller groups, an equally significant development was that the Arts Council has once again opened applications for development grants.

This had been shut off for several months while all available cash was diverted into Covid-19 emergency support pots.

Politicians overseeing the arts in the borough said it was to be hoped the funding was not too little too late and would benefit large and small creative groups alike.

Coun Chris Ready, cabinet member for communities and culture at Wigan Council said: “Although we welcome the arts funding package from central government, many cultural organisations in our borough and across the country have already experienced the severe financial effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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“The onus now is on the government to provide clear guidance on how the funds can be accessed so we can continue to support as many organisations as possible.

“Over the last couple of years, we have been working tirelessly with residents and our partners to evolve Wigan borough’s cultural offer and created an inspiring manifesto to engage more people with the arts.

“We remain committed to building on these successes and helping our cultural partners to deliver their invaluable services.”