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UK arts and culture sector 'warmly welcomes' €1.7bn COVID-19 rescue package

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A man wearing a mask walks past the Sondheim Theatre, which would be showing Les Miserables, but is closed down under the COVID-19 lockdown, in London on June 11, 2020.
A man wearing a mask walks past the Sondheim Theatre, which would be showing Les Miserables, but is closed down under the COVID-19 lockdown, in London on June 11, 2020.   -   Copyright  JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
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The British government has thrown a lifeline to thousands of theatres, galleries, museums, independent cinemas, music venues and other cultural institutions, many of which had feared ruin and closure amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Several have welcomed the promise of "significant" investment following the announcement of a £1.57 billion (€1.73 billion) rescue package for the arts, culture and heritage industries.

A government news release described the money as "the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture" which would help organisations "stay afloat while their doors are closed".

The performing arts sector has not been included in the partial easing of the lockdown which saw many English bars and pubs reopen at the weekend. Details for a phased return are expected to be announced soon.

The bulk of the bailout will be distributed in a mixture of grants (£880 million, €973 million) and loans (£270 million, €298 million). Funding will also be allocated to restarting cultural construction projects which the government says will "support employment, including freelancers".

It comes on top of financial assistance previously announced for the industry via loans, rates relief and a job retention scheme affecting more than 350,000 workers laid off.

A total of £188 million (€209 million) will also go to the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

'Vital step' on road to recovery

"The UK's cultural industry is the beating heart of this country," Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quoted as saying. "This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations."

Welcoming the announcement, some industry bodies said they were pleasantly surprised at the amount of money being pledged, while awaiting details as to how it would be distributed.

"This package of support will be a catalyst for unlocking the extraordinary creativity embedded in the UK's world-renowned creative industries," said Alex Beard, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House.

Julian Bird of the Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre said the rescue package was "hugely welcomed". "Venues, producers and the huge workforce in the theatre sector look forward to clarity of how these funds will be allocated and invested," he added.

"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 safely reopen live music," said Mark Davyd of the Music Venue Trust.

Jo Stevens, culture spokesperson for the Labour opposition, said on Twitter that the cash injection was "much-needed" but "for many it's too little too late". Several theatres have announced redundancy plans in recent weeks and at least one high-profile institution is facing permanent closure.

The money needed to reach theatres "teetering on the brink fast", especially those in towns and small cities, Stevens added.