Heritage and culture contribute over £20 billion annually to the UK visitor economy, so what steps are being put in place to protect these national assets in the face of COVID-19? Here, Brendan Moffett, Director of the University of Derby’s Centre for Contemporary Hospitality and Tourism, discusses what measures are being made available and what new initiatives are being adopted to support the sector through the crisis.
Art and Culture online
The availability of cultural content contributes significantly to the mental health and wellbeing of the nation, and many cultural institutions have started to provide online and free content in recent weeks for that purpose.
These include the National Theatre whose NT Live channel on You Tube is broadcasting One Man Two Guvnors, Jane Eyre, Treasure Island and Twelfth Night during April.
The Royal Opera House has also unveiled a selection of free ballets and operas available on its Facebook and YouTube channels.
The Manchester arts venue, Home, has commissioned a new programme of work called Homemakers. The work will be created by artists in isolation and the result could be anything from a live-streamed performance, an online game or a piece of video, audio or text. Home will share any revenues generated with artists.
The development of new business models during and after the initial crisis will become imperative for the sector’s survival.
Although the major players have mobilised quickly to utilise digital platforms, the concern is that the smaller and more fragile part of the sector will be the first to disappear due to the current economic strain and this could lead to irreparable economic and social damage.
Major emergency funds have been released to alleviate the negative impacts in the short term and help identify new opportunities in the medium term for different public, private and non-profit actors engaged in cultural and creative production.
Support for the Arts
It is also due to launch a third fund (£90m) to support National Portfolio Organisations (NPO) in the coming weeks to increase the likelihood that they can reopen their doors as soon as possible once we return to normality. Many of these NPO’s have high levels of earned income which has fallen away due to the enforced closures.
In total, the package will amount to circa £160m to help England’s cultural ecology survive. This is essentially basic financial support to allow practitioners and organisations time to stabilise and to plan for the future. With many cultural venues closed, tours cancelled, suppliers shut down and match-funding falling away, the vast majority of projects currently submitted are simply no longer feasible meaning that National Lottery Project Grants will be suspended.
Many cultural workers such as performers and technicians are also struggling and an additional set of funds has been established.
Support for Heritage
The Heritage sector has also seen a package of financial support developed rapidly in response to the crisis. Heritage Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “It is important that we do all we can to ensure our nation’s remarkable heritage landscapes, buildings and monuments – and the hardworking organisations that protect them – are supported at this difficult time.”
The £50m Heritage Emergency Fund will be available for grants of between £3,000 and £50,000. The fund will be made available to organisations across the full breadth of heritage, including historic sites, industrial and maritime heritage, museums, libraries and archives, parks and gardens, landscapes and nature.
The positive news for many in the sector is that organisations which have previously received funding or are in current receipt of a grant can still apply. The organisations that will be prioritised will be those who have limited or no access to other sources of support, where heritage is most at risk or where an organisation is at risk of severe financial crisis due to COVID-19.
National leadership on the Visitor Economy
Visit Britain continues to monitor COVID-19 and feed in wider visitor economy industry concerns to government via the Tourism Industry Emergency Response Group.
A number of business support measures initially introduced by government are available to the sector. Headlines include the Cash Grant for Retail, Hospitality and Leisure, Small Business Grant Funding, Statutory Sick Pay Rebate, VAT Deferral and an additional three months to file accounts.
In addition to these support packages, Visit Britain is also launching a new marketing campaign to maintain a dialogue with consumers and ensure Britain remains at the forefront of people’s minds for when we emerge from the crisis.
The national agency will be sharing content focused on five themes linked to popular British culture including film and TV (e.g. British series on Netflix, film and TV locations in the UK), literature (author itineraries, literary locations), food and drink (British recipes from iconic restaurants, food traditions and culture, pubs), music (famous musical city itineraries, Spotify playlists, music locations) and heritage and gardens (virtual museum tours, British traditions, outdoor spaces, British animals).
Visit Britain is encouraging organisations to align to these five themes on social channels using @lovegreatbritain #lovegreatbritain.
We are certainly in unprecedented times. Hopefully a range of these measures, combined with the undoubted entrepreneurial spirit and resilience of the sector, will help to protect its significant contribution to the UK economy and its assets.