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Funding pledge 'a ray of hope' for Norden Farm

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A £1.57billion support package for the arts sector is a ‘ray of hope in these uncertain times’, Norden Farm’s chief executive has said.

The Government pledge, announced on Sunday, aims to support the country’s cultural, arts and heritage institutions, with many venues still unable to open to the public under current lockdown rules.

It followed mounting criticism of the help being offered by the Government to the sector, with industry figures warning the economic impact of COVID-19 would have dire consequences for the arts.

Jane Corry, chief executive at Norden Farm, told the Advertiser that by the beginning of June the arts centre had lost more than £135,000 in income due to the lockdown, with other venues across the UK ‘on their knees’.

But organisations including performing arts venues and theatres, palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinemas will now be able to access emergency grants and loans.

Many hospitality businesses were allowed to reopen on ‘Super Saturday’, but theatre and live music venues are among the institutions that must remain shut.

Jane said that there are still many ‘unknowns’ within the industry, but that its prospects are looking better with the cash boost.

She said: “It is a ray of hope in these uncertain times. Of course we do not know the detail, but the fact that the Government has recognised the contribution the arts make, it gives us hope.

“It is not something that we were expecting. So many venues are absolutely on their knees, and it felt like there was no hope. Now, at least there is some.”

Jane added that she expects each arts venue to cope with reopening differently, with Norden Farm benefiting from extra room compared to other centres.

She says that about 100 people will be able to sit in the theatre with a one metre social distancing rule enforced – down on 220 in normal circumstances.

“I wish I had a crystal ball, but I hope the potential for us to find ways of working in these unprecedented times is kind of more favourable, because we have got more space,” Jane said.

“But of course it is an expens-ive operation to run. There are just so many unknowns.

“In the arts, we have so many components to make things back up financially, so it is a very fine balancing act – and with social distancing, it becomes even more extreme.

“The messages we have had have been lovely, and as soon as it is humanly possible to reopen, we will.”

Jane added that Norden Farm will be looking at a reduced schedule in the autumn if it is able to reopen then, with the plan being to open four days a week, Wednesday to Saturday.

There was some criticism that the grant had come too late for some parts of the industry, with many facing job losses, but Jane said she ‘can only feel really positive’ at this time.

The Government says it is ‘finalising guidance for a phased return of the performing arts sectors' which will be published ‘shortly’. Oliver Dowden MP, the culture secretary, said: “I said we would not let the arts down, and this massive investment shows our level of commitment.”

Norden Farm has been running an online programme throughout lockdown. Visit norden.farm for more.

  • The arts centre has a number of live stream gigs coming up, with the first - a classical music concert - scheduled for Thursday, July 16. The following, on Friday, July 24, will be a jazz gig.
  • Norden Farm's next big virtual project is set to be the popular Kite Festival, which will be held online this year at the end of August. People can learn to make kites via Zoom workshops and Norden Farm will be encouraging participants to share footage, with the virtual festival day taking place in the company of local bands.

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