"I cannot see a world where we will be back to full capacity on June 21"
Culture Recovery Fund money will make a crucial difference as The Spring Arts & Heritage Centre in Havant prepares to reopen.
But caution remains key – and already the venue is ruling out a return to full capacity this summer.
Sophie Fullerlove, CEO of The Spring, is delighted that the venue is to receive £47,000 from the second round of the Culture Recovery Fund. It means, quite simply, that they can open this May at a time when social distancing will leave events financially unviable.
“It is money that has got to be spent in the first quarter of the year, April, May, June and it means that we can plan to open and start to present events. When we present events which are socially-distanced, it means that we can only have 37 people in – out of about 142. It’s all we can manage if we are to keep them properly one metre plus apart, and the fact is that there is really nothing that is viable with only 37 people in the theatre. The numbers just don’t add up.
“But having the (Culture Recovery Fund) money means that we can present these events, make a loss and still survive. We are planning to reopen the building on May 17 and we will be bringing staff back from furlough at the start of May. Some of the money will be used for those staff costs. In May we will be reopening the café and the museum and having an exhibition, and then workshops and performances will be from the beginning of June. We wanted to give ourselves two weeks grace first just in case the roadmap gets pushed back. The thought of having to cancel things again was just too awful.”
The point is that nothing can be taken for granted: “It has gone quite well so far, and I do think we will reopen on May 17 and I do think events will start again from the beginning of June, but what I am not so convinced about is that all further restrictions will be lifted on June 21. I just cannot see a world where we will be back to full capacity on June 21. I just cannot see it happening. It feels too soon.
“But we are mitigating that by planning work that we can do with social distancing. We will keep some form of social distancing this summer. Even if the restrictions are lifted and we no longer have to social distance, I think what we will do is just release a few more tickets but not the full auditorium. I think it would put a lot of people off if we effectively said it is now safe for you all to come back in and sit in the darkness in a full auditorium right next to someone who is going to cough. So I think we would just release a few more tickets. We might go back up to 50 per cent of capacity, but we won’t go back to full capacity this summer. I just don’t want to put people off, and the problem is that we still don’t really have clarity about what opening up might mean. There is talk of Covid passports. We still don’t really know anything.
“So we are planning cautiously – and we just don’t think that our audiences are going to want to be sitting in full theatres this summer.”
Helping the reopening will be the experiences of last year: “We were open for ten weeks last year throughout the autumn. Our audiences are quite used to queuing and to the signage and the sanitisers. People will take the risks that they want to take. We can’t police everybody, but we can encourage them to act sensibly and our regulars will know that that’s what we do. Fortunately I am really lucky here with the team which have been just fantastic. They have continued to offer huge support and continued working for the organisation. We have all been furloughed. Most of us have only been working 20 per cent of our usual hours, which is tiny, but everyone has put their all into those hours and just making sure that we can keep going. The team have been fantastic. They have really helped me to get through this… as has wine!”