Leeds Grand and Leeds Playhouse theatres welcome nearly £4m lifeline from the government's Culture Recovery Fund

Two theatre companies in Leeds are set to benefit from £4m worth of government bail out funding.

By Emma Ryan
Sunday, 25th October 2020, 4:45 pm

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and Arts Council England announced this weekend that Leeds Grand Theatre & Opera House Ltd and Leeds Theatre Trust Limited (Leeds Playhouse) would be two of 35 of the country’s major arts and cultural organisations to receive grants between £1 and £3m from the government’s £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund.

Leeds Grand will be awarded £1,545,163 and £2,381,547 has been allocated to Leeds Theatre Trust Limited.

The latest allocation follows from £334m of funding which has been awarded to nearly 2,000 cultural organisations and venues of all sizes, including museums, circuses, festivals and comedy clubs across the country, to help them plan for reopening and restart performances and programmes.

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The historic Leeds Grand Theatre prior to coronavirus closure.

It is said that the certainty and security provided by these grants will help these organisations keep going and create more opportunities for freelancers.

Leeds Playhouse was in a vulnerable financial position at the start of lockdown, having reopened after a major redevelopment less than six months earlier where it had significantly invested its own reserves into the project.

Its business model was shaped around growth in visitor numbers and ancillary spend so, was particularly hard hit by COVID-19 with a high level of need for funds. During the lockdown, the theatre launched Playhouse Connect to remotely support over 4,000 people in particularly isolated or vulnerable situations but has now reopened its doors and in turn provided opportunities for more than 300 artists.

Joint Executive Directors James Brining and Robin Hawkes said: “Thank you to DCMS and Arts Council England for providing this incredibly important lifeline for the Playhouse and cultural organisations across the country. The Playhouse is part of the fabric of Leeds and is instrumental in the city’s re-emergence as a strong and vibrant city. We are also thankful to our audiences, participants and supporters for their continued support during this difficult time.”

Leeds Playhouse.

Chris Blythe, the CEO of Leeds Heritage Theatres, under which Leeds Grand operates, said the money was a "huge relief" after some of the most stressful times of his career.

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Mr Blythe said: “I cannot begin to tell you how incredible, and what a huge relief, it is to finally receive this news. The past seven months have been some of the most stressful of my, and the team’s, time at Leeds Heritage Theatres.

“We submitted a strong bid based on the cultural significance of the company, and we’re grateful this has been recognised and to have money invested in our future – not only for our people, but for our audiences who have been overwhelmingly generous and supportive throughout this difficult period.

“Whilst we have done all that we can to survive this ongoing period of closure, as well as prepare for the economic uncertainty that will follow – including exhausting our reserves and taking advantage of the job retention scheme, furloughing 96 per cent of our staff – it is no understatement to say that this grant is a lifeline.

“And whilst it won’t see us completely out of the woods – like many businesses, our financial pressures remain whilst we are unable to fully open – it will help us enormously to safeguard our heritage buildings, and to continue planning for an unknown future, one where we can hopefully welcome back the best of the West End and Broadway to The Grand, world-class stand-up, music and variety to The Varieties, and the very best independent, art house and classic films to The Picture House. It will also provide job security for our dedicated team of staff, volunteers and freelancers, and help us to continue nurturing talent through our Learning programme.”

Whilst Leeds Grand Theatre remains closed until January 2021, when it will welcome back resident companies, Opera North and Northern Ballet, City Varieties Music Hall recently reopened its doors with a programme of film presented in collaboration with sister venue Hyde Park Picture House. The Picture House itself remains closed for restoration work.

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