What the Government announced this week:

• £1.15 billion support pot for cultural organisations in England delivered through a mix of grants and loans. This will be made up of £270 million of repayable finance and £880 million grants.
• £100 million of targeted support for the national cultural institutions in England and the English Heritage Trust.
• £120 million capital investment to restart construction on cultural infrastructure and for heritage construction projects in England which was paused due to the coronavirus pandemic.
• The new funding will also mean an extra £188 million for the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland (£33 million), Scotland (£97 million) and Wales (£59 million).

But where does this leave our local Arts and artists? The collective sigh of relief following this announcement can’t be denied, but is it enough? And will it come in time to save our local culture? We spoke to two of our leading Arts organisations The Ford Collective and The Courtyard Theatre to find out what it really means for Herefordshire.

Many companies have diversified into a wide variety of media, such as the Riversong audio tales from Feral Productions

“There has always been a danger that the arts are seen as non-essential.” Says Estelle van Warmelo of the Ford Collective; a coordinated local group of artists, freelancers, and members of the cultural sector. “Artists of all varieties have been flying the flag for the value of their work since time began. The truth is the arts are part of our innate make up. Since we first painted animals on the walls of caves to augmented reality games in 2020, we have had the need to create, to express. The arts improve mental health and wellbeing. They build community cohesion. They give us a sense of identity and belonging while improving our economy locally, internationally and worldwide.”

“The truth is that the arts industry contributes over £10 billion a year to the UK economy, generating income for businesses across the nation.

“The truth is that 54 million people in the UK engage with the arts every year. 54 million… that’s 80% of the population.”

Estelle continues: “Covid-19 has shut us all down. Economies, communities, schools, restaurants, theatres… all of us. It’s vital now that we support each other as we begin to open up again. Imagine a world without the arts and you imagine a world where there is no Netflix, no panto, no story to read to your children at bedtime, no music to dance to, no dance… With the government’s support there’s hope now.”

Hope indeed, but how will rural Herefordshire fare in the divvying out of this £1.57 billion “support pot”?

A Courtyard Theatre spokesperson expressed their worry to us that Herefordshire, and places like it, may come a far second to larger cultural centres when it comes to cutting the cake.
“We know that theatres are a huge part of communities, as demonstrated so well by the Public Campaign for the Arts. This investment will help to ensure that venues like ours can be there to help heal society when this is over. 

“We know that a thriving local culture scene comes with huge social and economic benefits, from supporting young people, older people and marginalised communities, to generating income for nearby hospitality businesses.”

“Like everyone in the industry, we now await the detail of how the Government funding will be distributed. The success of venues like ours relies on the health of the industry as a whole and we believe it is vital for the funding to cover as much of the sector as possible, including freelancers and independent companies. It is especially important that artists, companies and community venues outside London are not forgotten.”

Site specific outdoor performances may be the way forward for many companies as seen here in 2019 with 2Faced Dance Company’s
Box of Delights

And what of outdoor performances?

“There could be a misconception among audiences that theatres could now switch to outdoor performances” says the Courtyard’s spokesperson. “ However, outdoor theatre requires very specific skillsets and expertise, and there are speciality organisations that do this. So whereas this is definitely positive for those organisations, it is not beneficial to those where it is not in their remit, and it would be disrespectful to them to assume we could now turn our hand to it overnight.

“What we’re looking forward to is further guidance on the reopening stages and plenty of notice so we can prepare. Venues like ours, who mainly host touring shows, will not be able to pull together a programme in a few days so we need to be realistic, as an independent charity, about when we can successfully reopen.”

The Courtyard has served the Herefordshire community for 20 years, now it needs your help

Now that things are starting to move forward the industry really needs help from the communities it has served for many, many years.  The Courtyard received a substantial grant from ACE earlier this week, but your support is also needed to secure the centre for the Arts in Herefordshire, “Although the grant is hugely important to support us through this extremely difficult time, the implications of this crisis will be long-lasting and we need the support of our loyal audiences now more than ever.”

Estelle agrees, “Performances and events take time and resources to pull together, outdoors or not. This will not be a swift recovery and we will need to come together as a county that recognises arts and culture as the beating heart of the community if we are to survive and thrive.”

How can you support the Arts right now?

• Make a donation to one of the many Crisis Appeals launched by local venues and artistic companies – any gift, of any size, will make a huge difference and is greatly appreciated.
• Give back the cost of tickets, or ask for credit to use in the future, rather than asking for a refund if performances are cancelled.
• Buy Gift Vouchers to treat yourself upon reopening.
• Becoming a Friend or Patron of the Courtyard – you’ll enjoy some great benefits on reopening and memberships have been extended from 12months to 15months for a limited time.

About the Ford Collective:

The Ford Collective is for everyone who works in the cultural sector and lives and/or works in Herefordshire (“The Ford”). Instigated by the Artistic Director of 2Faced Dance Company during the first week of the Covid-19 Crisis, The Ford Collective is a coordinated response from Herefordians who work in the County’s National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs), arts organisations, the wider arts industry, as independent artists, as administrators and further cultural stakeholders to ensure the visibility, viability and recovery of the Cultural Sector in Herefordshire through the Covid-19 crisis and beyond.
If you would like more information on the group please add your name to their manifesto here and fill in the survey here. You can also follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or email thefordcollective@gmail.com