Blog: Reflections on 2021 and looking forward to 2022

As 2021 draws to a close, Theatres Trust Director Jon Morgan looks back over the key issues and achievements of the year and forward to priorities in 2022.

2021 did not begin in a way that anyone would have wanted – with another lockdown and theatres across the UK once again forced to close (if they’d even been able to reopen at all). Our conversations with the government continued, making the case alongside others in the sector for more support for theatres and their workforces. We welcomed additional money allocated to the Culture Recovery Fund in March’s Budget and the extension of the furlough scheme came as a relief, but it continued to be a difficult year for theatres with uncertainty around the reopening timetable, capacity restrictions and different rules across the four nations. At the time of writing, we don’t know what the implications of the new variant will be, but regardless we know that 2022 will bring more challenges.

We supported 75 theatres in total through our Theatre Reopening Fund, with the final batch of 40 recipients announced in March, funding projects including changes to the building to reduce congestion, improvements to ventilation systems and simple measures like installing hand sanitisers and screens. With that fund exhausted, we were pleased to partner with The Linbury Trust on a new programme, the Small Grants Scheme, which aimed to help theatres in their recovery, improving resilience, sustainability or accessibility. Additional donations from Judy Craymer CBE and the Charles Michael Holloway Charitable Trust enabled us to offer more grants through this programme and we awarded the first 14 grants in July with the second round to be announced early in the new year. This fund has been vital in helping theatres whose reserves were depleted during the pandemic.

Show at Hanger Farm Theatre with people standing and sitting in wooden floored performance space

While arguably the whole theatre sector was ‘at risk’ due to Covid, we still made the distinction of those buildings in most critical danger of being lost when we announced our Theatres at Risk Register 2021 at the start of the year. We made just one addition to the list (Ramsbottom Co-op Hall), as the impact of the pandemic was not yet advanced enough to add more theatres to the list – but as we prepare to unveil the 2022 list and without wishing to ruin our own announcement, the picture is looking bleaker this year. The situation for existing Theatre at Risk Dudley Hippodrome worsened as it was approved for demolition in November, against our strong representations as the statutory consultee for theatres.

Dudley Hippodrome in 1995 in bingo use.

But it is worth noting that for several other theatres already on the Theatres at Risk Register, there has continued to be steady progress, particularly with theatres supported through our Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme including Burnley Empire, Derby Hippodrome, Leith Theatre, Morecambe Winter Gardens, Ramsbottom Co-op Hall and Spilsby Theatre – it isn’t all doom and gloom.

Theatres Trust had two welcome Public Inquiry results in the past year, where we gave key evidence, with planning decisions to protect the former-Saville Theatre and Wallingford Corn Exchange upheld. The Saville has since been sold and we continue to offer our expertise to the council London Borough of Camden, the building owners and any other interested parties who want to retain this building for live performance.

Exterior of Odeon Covent Garden with signage and frieze.

After Covid, sustainability was the other big news item in 2021 and the same was true in the theatre world as in the wider world. Conceived and developed during lockdown by Theatres Trust’s Interim Chair Paddy Dillon supported by Theatres Trust, ABTT and Buro Happold, 2021 saw real progress and widespread sector support for Theatre Green Book including the publication of the Sustainable Productions and Sustainable Buildings volumes.

Making Theatre Sustainable was the theme for Conference 21, our first major in-person event since the start of the pandemic. The conference was a sell out, the hottest ticket in town in November – and a fantastic opportunity to discuss a vital issue. To coincide with the conference, we released data from research by AECOM, Avison Young, Bristow Consulting and Buro Happold which revealed that more than £1bn is needed to make the UK’s theatre buildings sustainable. We awarded five more grants to help theatres do just that through the Theatre Improvement Scheme in association with the Wolfson Foundation and importantly, Wolfson renewed its support for this scheme for another three years. We’ll be announcing the next round of recipients early in 2022 and look forward to helping several theatres with impactful sustainability projects.

Panel discussion at Conference 21 with five participants in front of a presentation screen

But this is of course just the tip of the iceberg of the investment that we need and in 2022 we will work even harder to leverage further funding to protect and improve the UK’s theatres as vital social and cultural spaces for their communities.

As we head into 2022, Theatres Trust will be focusing on many of the same issues as in this year – securing more funding and greater protections for theatres, making the case for sustainability within the sector and to potential funders and sharing our knowledge and love of the UK’s theatre buildings.

Photo credits:

  • Hanger Farm Theatre, a Theatre Reopening Fund recipient, photo courtesy of the theatre
  • Dudley Hippodrome by Ian Grundy
  • Saville Theatre / Odeon by Ian Grundy
  • Conference 21 Green Operations panel discussion by Sharron Wallace