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A lifeline for live venues as UK's £1.5 billion support fund revealed

(Image credit: Philipp Göhrs / EyeEm)

The UK's music venues appear to be about to get serious support to weather the impact of COVID-19 as part of a rescue package designed to pump over £1.5 billion into the country's arts and heritage sectors. 

The scheme, which aims to protect music venues, theatres, galleries and museums, was revealed this morning, and comes after 1500 artists, including Radiohead, Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones launched the #LetTheMusicPlay campaign last week

While many details remain to be announced, and it's unclear if or what support may be available to the 1000s of industry freelance performers, venue staff and crew affected, anything that can help to preserve the UK's cultural infrastructure for an eventual safe return to live performances is hugely welcome.

"On behalf of every grassroots music venue in the UK we would like to thank every music fan, every artist, every activist, and every one of you, our people, who got this done."

Music Venue Trust

Announcing the support package, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said "[Arts and culture] make our country great and are the linchpin of our world-beating and fast-growing creative industries.

“I understand the grave challenges the arts face and we must protect and preserve all we can for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down.”

The bulk of the package is made up of of £270m in loans and £880m in grants, while there's a further £100m of 'targeted support' for national cultural institutions and English Heritage, plus £120m of capital investment into 'cultural infrastructure' and restarting paused projects. Finally, the devolved administrations will receive extra funding to the tune £97m for Scotland, £59m for Wales and £33m for Northern Ireland.

Awards will be made directly by the government in consultation with existing grants bodies like the British Film Institute, Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England (ACE).

ACE’s chair, Sir Nicholas Serota, said: “We greatly welcome this very significant investment by the government in the future of arts and culture in this country and look forward to working with them on next steps."

Speaking to The Guardian, playwright James Graham summed up many people's reactions, saying “Let’s drill down into the detail but my first reaction is absolute relief and gratitude.” 

“I think it is a surprisingly ambitious package, especially when you compare it to some of our European neighbours."

The Music Venue Trust, which has been campaigning for support also welcomed the initiative. 

"Music Venue Trust warmly welcomes this unprecedented intervention into Britain’s world class live music scene," a statement reads. "

"We’d like to thank the Secretary of State and the team at DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport) for the opportunity to work closely together throughout this crisis to develop genuine solutions to the challenges faced by grassroots music venues. 

"This fund provides the opportunity to stabilise and protect our vibrant and vital network of venues and gives us the time we need to create a plan to Reopen Every Venue Safely.

"On behalf of every grassroots music venue in the UK we would like to take this opportunity to thank every music fan, every artist, every activist, and every one of you, our people, who got this done."

Speaking to Music Week, UK Music’s acting CEO Tom Kiehl was similarly positive, while calling for careful implementation. “This is a huge step forward and should be a lifesaver for many music venues.”

“The music industry was one of the first sectors to be hit by measures to tackle COVID-19. UK Music has long called for sector specific support to ensure live music can recover.

“Eligibility for grants and loans must be as broad as possible to ensure maximum take up from across the industry from those in desperate need of help. Those that don’t have a track record of public funding must also not be put at a disadvantage.”