The Great Reopening? Freedom Day? The name doesn’t matter, the definitive date when we can finally get our lives back together does. The creative and hospitality sectors have suffered considerable losses during the pandemic and the delayed reopening has increased concern and confusion. When Boris Johnson announced the June 21 date will be moved to July 19, Andrew Lloyd Webber, for one, had already threatened to reopen his theatres on June 21 regardless.
His desperation is felt throughout the arts and entertainment industries where many venues are struggling to make their businesses viable using the one metre social distancing rule. The UK’s cinemas had enjoyed a remarkable recovery after the May 17 reopening, with the first signs of summer encouraging attendance, but any hope that this would help recoup the losses from lockdown were derailed with the announcement that the one metre rule stays.
The increase in streaming during the pandemic is also likely to eat into cinema profits. Movie giants such as Warner Bros are for the first time considering opening releases on streaming platforms. This double hit will have far-reaching effects until there’s greater Freedom Day clarity and effective marketing plans to woo cinema-goers. Financial support during this period is essential for survival.
The Prime Minister’s caution comes with due counsel. The advice from SAGE favours increasing the number of vaccinated young people to buffer any rise in infections. The fear is that the final reopening of music venues and festivals will trigger a sweeping rise in Covid cases – even as thousands of spectators are allowed to attend the Euros and Wimbledon. There’s an overriding sense that the hospitality, culture and creative show must go on but only in slow, incremental steps.
So what now for music festivals such as Glastonbury and Reading? The big festivals have had to cancel this year because a lack of government insurance schemes to cover continued delays. Sweaty heavy metal nights at the likes of Dublin Castle or raves round the corner in clubs along Camden High Street seem a thing of the past. When they do reopen, it’s hard to see the one distance rule rekindling the mosh pit energy of rock gigs and dance festivals of year’s past. Loss of atmosphere and revenue are major concerns. If you Google ‘London music venues’ and the date ‘June 21’ you’ll see a long list of clubs and live music venues that have a June 21 reopening date – note the hopeful exclamation marks. With that hope now long gone, the live music sector will lose £36 million because of the four-week delay and 4,000 gigs will be cancelled.
Those venues that have survived the tumultuous 15 months of shutdown and stuttering re-openings will need further government support to cover the extra month and all the administrative chaos it has unloaded. The hospitality sector will feel the brunt of the final week of the rent moratorium which coincidentally is also in June. These restaurants, pubs and bars have already spent upwards of half a billion on making their venues Covid 19 safe and paid out on other unforeseen expenses and the end of rent relief may be the final nail in the coffin. As it stands, only a quarter of them have reopened and many have closed permanently.
The resilience of these sectors, government support and a willingness to adapt to the new normal are crucial to economic recovery and the flourishing of London’s cultural, creative and hospitality sectors.