£3.1m to help culture return to Leicestershire this summer

Tourist attractions and big events – like many businesses and households – have taken a big financial hit from coronavirus.

But Leicestershire’s cultural gems are now getting a three million pound boost to prepare them for the end of lockdown, allowing them to get the county going again this summer.

Leicester Comedy Festival, the Athena, the Great Central Railway, Curve and The Phoenix are among about 60 organisations, charities and venues benefiting from Culture Recovery Fund cash.

Leicester Comedy Festival founder Geoff Rowe has heard that his organisation is getting £50,000 for a summer events programme, including Big Weekends and the Stand Up Challenge, as well as paying for staffing and freelancer costs.

He said the city had taken a big hit from all the cancelled events. He said: “Each year the vistors coming to Leicester for the comedy festival contribute about £3 million to the local economy and that didn’t happen this year.

“We had an online festival with an audience of about 30,000 but they weren’t spending money.

“We also took a financial hit, like our promoters and all our venues did.

“Thankfully for us we have the support of the city council, De Montfort University and now this money as well. Our focus is on next year’s festival and our 30th anniversary festival in 2023 and hopefully we can now be around to celebrate it.”

He said it was not clear how much exactly the festival bank account was down compared to previous years.

The Curve Theatre in Leicester, which is getting £371,000 to bring creativity back to the city, has also been hit hard by the lockdown.

The threatre has been continuing with various online projects, such as streaming live music with Sunset Boulevard in Concert and sharing a livestream of the production The Color Purple.

Curve is planning a scaled-back programme of performances and community projects over the coming months, working with local youth groups and artists, including a special season of socially-distanced events celebrating local creatives and the city.

Curve’s chief executive Chris Stafford and artistic director Nikolai Foster said: “Covid continues to have a devastating impact on our industry, and we are indebted to Arts Council England and the DCMS for this crucial investment in our theatre, and indeed in arts and culture in this country.”

Despite being forced to online performances, the theatre has still managed to commission more than 200 events and shows, worked with more than 250 freelancers and break new creative ground with its streamed productions of Sunset Boulevard and The Color Purple.”

The Great Central Railway, which has lost about £3 million in lost revenue in the past year, is getting £515,700 to get the heritage steam railway running again.

The railway usually has about 110,000 visitors per year but that was reduced massively because of lockdown.

Michael Stokes, events and marketing manager, said: “We could only run a very limited number of passenger trains over the summer and the only real income came before Christmas when we were able to run our Santa service with up to six people in the compartments.

“We had a predicted loss of about £3 million and it should now be less than that but we have had to go into our reserves.”

The heritage railway line set up an emergency appeal that raised £120,000 and also received a quarter of a million pounds from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

While cash for future projects has had to be spent on keeping the railway going, it is hoped those planned projects can still go ahead thanks to donations and grants.

Michael said: “We’ve had some very kind donations and we have more grants we have applied for. Hopefully those awards refinance our projects for the future.”

Other recipients of the cash include:

The Athena

The venue will get £154,603, funding things including a Nigerian afrobeat event, folk singers and dance and youth groups, as they move towards a full reopening.

The Attenborough Arts Centre

The centre on the University of Leicester’s campus is getting £39,740 to allow it to safely re-open and pay for a marketing programme to encourage audiences back into the centre and to promote the new digital strand, called Studio Attenborough.

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Flambe Circus

The travelling circus based in Loughborough is receiving £9,846 to re-open and set up a new website and social media campaign to promote their Covid-safe performances, including doorstep shows and drive-in events.

Phoenix Arts

Phoenix is getting one of the bigger grants – £298,699 – to start running again safely and provide new educational services.

Other projects getting money will include Pinder’s Circus (£18,860), Rocks by Rail – formerly known as Rutland Railway Museum – (£9,057), the Little Theatre in Dover Street, Leicester, (£47,210) and Symphotech Ltd (£60,000).

Symphotech supports cultural events with free or low-cost advise on everything from technical issues to crowd safety.

Julian Spear, Symphotech’s founder and chairman, said: “Events businesses still face a challenging summer as together we all monitor progress along the Government’s roadmap to recovery. We remain cautious but optimistic.”

The latest announcement brings the government’s total investment across grants, capital and repayable finance from the Culture Recovery Fund so far to more than £1.2 billion across over 5,000 individual cultural organisations and sites that have suffered because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Peter Knott, area director of Arts Council England, said: “The government’s Culture Recovery Fund has supported a wide range of arts and cultural sector companies across Leicestershire and Rutland – from grassroots music and comedy festivals, to ground-breaking theatre and circus.

“The government’s package is hugely welcome, providing much of the sector with resources to re-open safely.”

Leicestershire Live – Leicester News