Burnham-On-Sea’s Princess Theatre may not be able to fully re-open until next April in a “worst case scenario”, its manager has warned this week.
Beccy Armory, the theatre’s Business Development Officer, gave an update to town councillors on the status of the council-run facilities during an online meeting.
She explained that since The Princess Theatre closed its doors on 20th March amid the Coronavirus lockdown, the theatre has lost 94% of its income. It did not qualify for government financial support, but has received £28,649 of ’emergency funds’ from Arts Council England.
Beccy told councillors this week: “As a public venue, and one that holds mass gatherings, we probably fall within the last phase of lockdown easing and therefore it’s reasonable to assume that we’re probably not going to achieve our previous level of income for some time.”
“So we have worked very much on the worst case scenario that we may not be able to operate fully until perhaps April of next year.”
She added during the Princess Management Committee meeting: “The council’s Responsible Financial Officer (RFO) and I have worked hard to reduce our outgoings and I’m pleased to say that on an annual basis, for this year anyway, it looks like we’re making a saving of over £40,000.”
“I want to point out that we are very much not eligible for government support, but we have been lucky enough to achieve funding from the Arts Council England, which is incredible and we are hugely grateful. That emergency funding covers our losses.”
“With the worst case scenario, that does still leave us with a small shortfall and I want to let the Princess Management Committee know that I’m working on bridging that gap.”
She adds: “We are looking at a return to business, even though it’s very likely to be a long way off. We are looking at complying with health and safety regulations. I’m working with a huge team of other venue managers to look at a white paper on how we can all go forward, including how can we make sure that we’re keeping our staff, volunteers, customers and supporters safe.”
“On the refurbishment, it’s very much something that I am working towards bringing forward – it seems only normal and natural for us to be getting the work down whilst we’re in a dark period. That’s something that the project coordinator and I are working towards.”
“With regards to the café, we have no firm date set in terms of cafes and bars being reopened to the public as yet. I think it’s very unlikely that we will be returning the cafe in its previous guise for some time, if at all.”
She added that a questionnaire of customers had received over 200 responses, that a new website has launched, a new ticketing system has been unveiled that will enable the theatre to retain about 80% of ticket sales revenue.
And she added: “One thing I’ve noticed during these past three months is that The Princess has got a lot of supporters in many different guises. I’m really pleased to say that we’ve also received some fabulous donations from our supporters – some have actually said ‘I do want my tickets but you can swap them for a donation and I’ll buy tickets later’ which is fantastic.”
She went on to outline plans for a new membership offering.
“I want to introduce a membership that would cost approximately £30 and it would give our customers and supporters some exclusive benefits such as ‘meet the stars’, special ticket prices, and invites to private views. In this current climate I would be willing to offer a two-year membership as opposed to just the one year because I think it’s important to let them know that their money is not going to be wasted. It’s an investment for them – and it’s about an engagement and giving something back over a longer period of time. Fundraising is top of my list of priorities.”
“With some funding from ACE [Arts Council England] arts grant we’ve got a number of projects that we are undertaking.”
This will help to fund an online visual arts exhibition in which ten local Somerset artists will be given £150 pounds to create art, whether it be visual arts, audible arts or some kind of film.
“It’s a way of us making sure that we’re supporting local artists in our area, but at the same time it’s about us all working together.”
“I’m incredibly proud that the Arts Council have supported our educational programme which is very much in the development stages right now. We will be employing some local freelancers – Somerset based artists – to work with us to facilitate a programme of educational workshops. We will then be engaging with local schools and hope to invite local primary, and secondary school children into The Princess to engage with culture.”
She added: “I am incredibly proud that we’ve been given the stamp of approval from the Arts Council – it means a huge deal.”
She also confirmed that the Princess has submitted a discretionary grant application to Sedgemoor District Council.
“It has been a very weird three months, not without its challenges, but myself and my small team with my theatre operations officer are very focused in what we’re doing at the moment. We know that we have to work hard on our future.”