Closed West End theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue
Closed West End theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue

Westminster Labour is calling on Westminster City Council to urgently help live arts businesses affected by the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Cllr Andrea Mann (Shadow Cabinet Member for Arts, Culture and Leisure) has written to Cabinet Members Cllr Matthew Green (Business) and Cllr Paul Swaddle (Community, including Culture), asking for the Council to create a specific strategy to support this vital sector during this unprecedented time.

Cllr Mann wrote:

“Dear Cllrs Green and Swaddle

I’m writing to ask if Westminster City Council could please urgently devise a specific post-COVID-19 strategy to help businesses in Westminster’s live arts sector.

This issue was touched on briefly in Tuesday night’s Policy & Scrutiny Committee meeting (during your part of the meeting, Matthew). Cultural businesses are of course one area where your portfolios intersect, hence me contacting you both with this request.

As you know, the live arts sector in Westminster is both an essential one for the wellbeing of our residents and our communities, and one that’s responsible for generating millions of pounds for the Westminster economy, and bringing millions of visitors to our borough, every year.

It’s a world-class sector, too: Westminster is lucky enough to be the home of iconic West End theatres, historic concert halls, brilliant live music, dance and comedy venues. And these companies provide more than just live entertainment: they drive vital footfall to businesses around them – such as restaurants and bars – and many of them do great work in our communities, providing education and ensuring that their impact is felt way beyond their (often historic) buildings.

Yet, as many industry figures have been pointing out over recent weeks, this sector is facing an existential crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The financial pressures on these venues and businesses are now crippling, putting them in real jeopardy, and the jobs and livelihoods of those working in this sector are now on the line. Many live music venues are resorting to crowdfunding campaigns to try to ensure their survival. West End producer Sonia Friedman has warned that “British theatre is on the brink of total collapse”; director Sam Mendes has called the pandemic “the biggest challenge to Britain’s cultural life since the outbreak of the second world war”; and John Gilhooly, Director of Wigmore Hall, has said that “Live performance in London is in danger of total wipeout”.

We need to act now to avoid this terrifying prospect. We need to help these businesses to not just survive but be able to thrive in a post-COVID world. Not least because we will need their art, their productions, the communal power of live performance, more than ever as we recover from this crisis.

I hope that Westminster City Council is willing and able to provide the specific help and support that this vitally important sector needs right now and into the future. I look forward to hearing from you.”

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