Coronavirus (COVID-19) update

Theatres Trust will continue to work with other partners in the theatre and related sectors, sharing information and presenting the needs of theatre organisations to national and local government.

Theatres, along with most other public buildings, have now closed in response the coronvirus. This will place a pressure on the sustainability of theatre organisations but is necessary for the protection of public health.

Advice for theatres

We advise that you ensure you are familiar with the latest guidance from theatre industry membership bodies (such as SOLT, UK Theatre, FST, Creu Cymru, ITC and Equity) on responding to the current situation.

Theatres Trust will continue to offer advice to theatre operators at this time and encourage organisations concerned about the resilience of their business model to get in touch via email.

UK Theatre is interested in hearing from any theatres / theatre businesses that are within a month of financial failure so that DCMS can be kept informed of the impact on the theatre sector. Please contact ceooffice@soltukt.co.uk.

Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre have launched a new website with details of theatre charities offering grants and support.

Arts Council England support

Arts Council England has announced details of £160m of new financial support, covering National Portfolio organisations, non-NPOs and individuals. Application details were added on 31 March. Read more in our news story.

Support for organisations in Scotland

Creative Scotland has announced details of funding to support Scotland's creative community during this time including grants for organisations and individuals and bursaries for freelancers. Read more in our news story.

The Third Sector Resilience Fund (TSRF) is a £20m emergency fund for charities, community groups, social enterprises and voluntary organisations working in Scotland. It will provide grants between £5,000-£100,000. In addition there will be up to a further £5m available in fully flexible, 0% interest loans starting at £50,000. The fund will be complemented by specialist business advice from Just Enterprise to help grant recipients maximise the impact of the financial support. Further information is available on the SCVO website.

Support in Wales

Jointly financed by the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Government, a £7m Resilience Fund is being launched to support organisations and individuals impacted by the coronavirus. Further details will be announced on Tuesday 7 April.

The Welsh Government has announced details of a £500m Economic Resilience Fund to support businesses forced to temporarily cease trading or which need cash-flow support to adapt to a remote way of working. Further details are available on the Welsh Government website.

Support in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA is exploring options to introduce a new £1m COVID-19 Creative Support Fund to support individual artists and organisations. 

National Lottery Heritage Fund

National Lottery Heritage Fund has launched the £50m Heritage Emergency Fund to support heritage organisations. Read our news story.

Government support

The government has introduced measures to support the liquidity of businesses during this time, which will be revised and reviewed as the situation develops. 

All theatres will receive a business rates holiday for 12 months. If theatres have a rateable value under £51,000, they will receive 100% rates relief and will be eligible for a cash grant of up to £25,000. Other smaller businesses who are eligible for Small Business Rate Relief will be eligible for grants of up to £10,000. On 1 April, the government published guidance on these grants (only applicable in England).

It has been confirmed that Gift Aid can be claimed on the donation where audience members have donated the price of their ticket to the theatre, so long as they have made the usual Gift Aid declaration. 

Insolvency and Company Rules - the government will be introducing legislation to support businesses that would otherwise be operating illegally. This will include a temporary suspension of the 'wrongful trading' rules that make it an offence to keep tarading if a business is unable to repay its debts and rmeoving the personal liability for Directors - this will apply retrospectively from 1 March. Companies required to hold an Annual General Meeting can do so online or by phone to comply with health and safety guidance.

The government is preparing loan guarantees, including a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) for loans of up to £5m. This will be interest free for twelve months – not six months as originally planned. British Business Bank has published eligibility guidance and an FAQ document. It has been clarified that organisations that have received more than 200,000 Euros from different creative industries tax reliefs will not impact eligibility for this scheme.

The Chancellor has announced that organisations with a turnover between £45m and £500m will now be able to apply for loans of up to £25m through the new Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Scheme.

New Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme - any employer is eligible to apply for grants of 80% of salaries (capped at £2,500) for those not working. This will initially be for three months and will be available by the end of April. Further details on eligibility are now available for employers and for employees. Note that while the guidance states that organisations receiving public funding for staffing costs will not be able to apply to the scheme, DCMS has confirmed arts organisations receiving funding arts council or local authority funding, will not be included in this so will still be eligble to apply. The government has updated the guidance in relation to those on fixed-term contracts. These employees will be covered by the scheme so long as they were on the PAYE payroll on 28 February and and must continue to be paid through the PAYE system.

The Chancellor has announced details of the income support scheme for the self-employed. A grant of 80% of profits up to £2,500 per month will be available for the three months to May, open to those with a trading profit of less than £50,000 in 2018-19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. Payments will start to be paid at the beginning of June. As previously announced the next self-assessment payments will be deferred until Jan 2021. Before grant payments are made, the self-employed will still be able to access other available government support including Universal Credit and business continuity loans where they have a business bank account.

Organisations with under 250 people will be able to reclaim up to two weeks statutory sick pay from the government from absences due to staff isolating.

In his speech on 17 March the Chancellor  addressed the issue of insurance saying "For those venues which do have a policy that covers pandemics - the government action is sufficient to allow them to make claims."

The government has also announced that commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent because of coronavirus will be protected from eviction if they miss a payment in the next three months.

The next quarterly VAT payment has been deferred for all businesses, with the next one now due in June. If theatre businesses are concerned about paying VAT or National Insurance contributions they should contact the HMRC’s time to pay service on 0800 0159 559.

Further details are available on the government website.

The government has launched two new support channels:

  • HMRC Business Support Helpline – 0800 024 1222
  • Coronavirus WhatsApp Information Service – send a WhatsApp message saying ‘hi’ to 07860 064422 to us

The BBC website also has some helplful explanatory pages - one on how to apply for business support and another on wages, sick pay and time-off.

Things to consider

Theatres Trust encourages theatre operators to consider the building management and security of their theatres during this uncertain duration of closure.

Assurity Consulting has put together a series of COVID-19 contingency planning white papers covering:

Ticketholders are entitled to a full refund for cancelled events and you should process this promptly. If the cashflow impact of this could be critical for your organisation then you may wish to call ticketholders and ask if they would be willing to convert their refund into a donation to the theatre. Be considerate and understand that some audience members will be anxious about their own access to money at the moment and could require that refund.

While events are cancelled there is still work to be done. Can your staff continue to work from home? Do you require additional IT equipment to enable home working. Arts Council England has some useful digital resources including online fundraising and tips on homeworking.

Remember that some employees may be stressed and anxious and you should consider the mental health aspects of this situation. The Theatre Helpline is free, independent and open to everyone working in the theatre industry - call 0800 915 4617 or email advice@theatrehelpline.org

Implement enhanced hygiene procedures to protect any staff or volunteers  still coming into your premises. Ensure your sinks have soap available and encourage regular handwashing.

Consider the impact that your closure may have on staff and freelancers. If your building or people could usefully support the local community perhaps you could repurpose some existing roles to this new purpose. Arts Council England and Creative Scotland have announced details of funds to support creative freelancers who have work cancelled in this period, but you could consider whether other work is possible. 

Some members of your community may begin to feel lonely, particularly older people and disabled people who could be concerned about the impact of the coronavirus. Remaining in contact with your audiences will be vital so that you can reopen following any closure with the confidence and loyalty of audiences intact.

If you have creative work to share consider if it can be disseminated in a different way. The infrastructure for live streaming may not be possible but you could consider recording and broadcasting at a later date. Miracle Theatre has guidance on recording performance and the rights implication is available.