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One Year On – Coronavirus: Today, it will be one year to the day that we closed the doors of our beloved theatre, Blackpool Grand.
None of us dreamt it would still be closed one year on, let alone have been part of a global crisis that has devastated our business, the entire entertainment industry, and our community as a whole. So many people impacted…
Now the ‘crocus of hope’ is poking through, with the route map and the vaccination programme, I thought I would write with an update about what has been happening and some of our – tentative – plans for the future.
The Job Retention Scheme (furlough), Emergency funding from Arts Council England, and a share of the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund have proved lifelines at a time when we have not been able to generate income through ticket sales. In addition, your individual support has been extremely gratefully received. Thank you.
One Year On Coronavirus
Nevertheless, we have had to take drastic steps to protect the theatre. We have massively reduced our overheads and now have just 15 staff members working. When we closed there were 57 of us.
The reduced team has managed the cancellation or postponement of more than 60 shows, handling thousands upon thousands of re-bookings, credits, and refunds. We have been bidding for funds, caring for the building, and running an extensive education and audience engagement programme both online and, when possible, in the community. We even produced and streamed our Christmas show – Pantomonium! – online. A huge learning curve and a great success, with more than 5,000 people viewing it from Denmark to Dublin and Sydney to New York.
To make this happen, the team has had to be flexible, learn new skills and share the workload. From cleaning to programming, to box office and workshop delivery, everyone has contributed to keeping the business alive at a time when our beautiful building cannot be used for the purpose it was created.
All 15 team members have been involved in planning the theatre’s return, making sure the venue is covid secure for audiences, artists, and staff. We are, like other businesses and organisations throughout the UK, being cautious, however – we have had our planning fingers burnt before – so we will be taking small steps to return, in a sustainable and viable manner.
Our aims are, firstly, to ensure our team has the full support it needs to return to the workplace after a year of working from their bedrooms and kitchen tables. It is important that we look after their wellbeing as well as yours.
We will be employing new staff as well as bringing back furloughed team members, so we plan some ‘soft openings’ in the summer. These will take the form of tours of the theatre to slowly introduce people back to the venue, giving staff a chance to practise new ways of working and you the opportunity to see the steps we will have in place for a ‘Safe and Secure’ return of our audiences.
We hope to open a ‘pop up’ box office that will be located on Church Street and will offer limited covid-secure, face to face services, on a limited number of days at around the same time. Most customers book online nowadays, but we are keenly aware that some of our most loyal supporters prefer to see a friendly face.
When the time is right, and only when safe to do so, we will be looking to present shows from the Autumn, through the Winter and beyond. That is the plan. But, as we have learnt, the best-laid plans …. so, customers will be informed of any cancellations or postponements as swiftly as possible.
It is going to take a while for our industry to rebuild. Producers of the kind of touring shows that we present at the Grand are also in the process of cautiously gearing up. Without the shows they make, we can’t off the theatre programme you love, and we could find that it takes quite a while for things to return to anything like ‘normal’.
If you can, or would like, to support the theatre through this time of rebuilding, our Recovery Fund will continue at blackpoolgrand.co.uk/recoveryfund. If, however, like all of us, you just want to get back in there and enjoy a show, please do buy a ticket – it’s like a little promise of return.
Thank you all for your tremendous support and encouragement. We look forward to nudging elbows with you again soon.
Chief Executive, Blackpool Grand Theatre
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