We have dozens of groups our citizens can join, from choirs and orchestras to groups of writers, painters, potters and dancers – all tastes are catered for.
It is remarkable to me that a city of only 8,500 inhabitants has so many creative people eager to express themselves in so many different ways.
In particular we have our internationally renowned Georgian Theater Royal, a Grade I listed building built in 1788, the oldest operating theater in its original form in the UK.
Knowing that the House of Lords was going to take over the creative sector, I wanted to know how the theater fared during this terrible time and, interestingly, it did quite well.
Having received an extremely generous donation from a wonderful benefactor, it was beautifully restored during the lockdown, which then allowed it to open once the restrictions on theaters were lifted.
During the lockdown, however, he was helped by the Culture Recovery Fund, for which we were extremely grateful. This paid around Â£ 78,000 for things like maintenance, insurance and utilities.
Then, of course, there was the job retention program, which paid the salaries of the small number of people employed in the theater, which incidentally only has 155 seats.
In a way, if there was to be a good time for the theater to close, you could say it was this one. However, without the help of the stimulus fund and the leave plan, it might well have been a very different story.
However, all is not rosy. Most theaters across the country may have survived, but actually putting together a production is much more problematic. Because they received little help with their finances, many smaller sites had to shut down for good.
Certainly small production companies like the ones used by our theater in Richmond have found it extremely difficult to restart due to the uncertainty of getting the money.
Shows take a long time to get ready for the stage, and performers just haven’t had the help others have, resulting in a real shortage of shows to present in our theater. Indeed, the CEO tells me that it has been almost impossible to produce a good program due to the inability to bring people together to rehearse. It is undoubtedly the fault of the government which left this sector without any assistance during the pandemic.
Small cinemas need to be prepaid now because insurance is problematic and increasing. There is an understandable nervousness about bringing people back to theaters. Will they make enough profit to stay open?
Even a historically significant theater like ours has these deep concerns, so what assurance can ministers give them?
For example, will the government ensure that the tax relief scheme for theaters and orchestras continues to support the many small theaters and orchestras in the future, as it will be a long time before they do? can make a profit?
It seems to me that it’s all about trust: trusting our government to do the right thing and start supporting our cultural heritage.
This sector has been treated so cruelly during the pandemic by failing to support artists and performers – the very people we need to help our creative industries thrive. We also need to find the confidence to return to pre-pandemic levels of support for these individual artists and groups, who bring such richness to our daily lives.
It means allowing foreign artists to perform here as well. At the moment we have made it extremely difficult for them and our local artists find it almost impossible to get reservations in Europe due to the ridiculous paperwork they now have to fill out.
What was once easy has become ridiculously difficult because of our stance on Brexit. So, finally, will the government begin to see how important it is for us to share our culture with the world and to recognize that it is only through unfettered reciprocal agreements between countries that we can begin? to rebuild our creative industries?
Baroness Harris of Richmond is a Lib Dem peer who spoke during a House of Lords debate on the creative industries. This is a modified version.
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