The big read: Report reveals true and 'catastrophic' impact of pandemic on Sheffield's culture scene

Sheffield’s arts, culture and heritage sector was one of the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and it had a ‘catastrophic’ effect on the people who work in those industries, a new report has revealed.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 6:00 am
Sheffield Theatres Chief Executive, Dan Bates. Picture: Chris Etchells

The ‘landmark’ report put together by The University of Sheffield shows the pandemic caused a massive 60 per cent decline in output in the the UK’s arts, culture and heritage sector as a whole.

Restrictions put in place to deal with the outbreak led to 55 percent of jobs being furloughed in the sector, a greater proportion than in any other sector, apart from accommodation and food.

The research revealed that South Yorkshire’s arts sector is one of the most affected by Covid-19 in the UK with an estimated output loss of 22 per cent - five per cent more than the UK average. This is believed to be because South Yorkshire has the highest share of jobs in the hardest hit sub-sectors of arts, culture and heritage.

Ian Wild chief executive of Sheffield's Showroom Cinema. Picture Scott Merrylees

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Culture and Chair in Early Film and Popular Entertainment at the University, said: “This landmark report reveals how social distancing and lockdowns over the past 18 months have had a catastrophic effect on the finances of people who work in the sector, as well as businesses and venues.

"People in the sector have been losing sleep and have had much higher levels of anxiety due to how the pandemic has affected their personal finances and uncertainty about the future."

South Yorkshire specific research undertaken for the report found that 76.5 per cent of the freelancers reported that their mental wellbeing was worse since the start of lockdown.

Additionally, worry over personal finances and unemployment was much higher among these respondents than in the general population, despite lockdowns affecting the whole population.

Kathy Loizou, Director of The Children’s Media Conference.

Kathy Loizou, director of The Children’s Media Conference based in Sheffield, said: “If you want to live an interesting life and the arts are part of that then it is important that arts are sustainable in the same way as walking in the countryside or going to the football is.

"Sheffield has a very low percentage of money from the arts council and it goes to very few organisations. If people are paying their taxes in Sheffield then they deserve the same benefits.

"The Children’s Media Conference was made virtual during Covid-19 - it was a huge amount of work.

"One of the problems of online events if that you have to charge less. We took a bank loan of £50,000, and we received two installments from Sheffield Council of £10,000 and £3,000. We got no money from the national culture recovery fund.

Utopia Theatre received just under £22,000 from the Culture Recovery Fund.

“The arts council have their criteria which is a government edict. “There is a lack of resources for freelancers and people not eligible for self employment grants, but the creative economy is built on freelancers. When freelancers get paid, they spend their money. One of the best ways to depress an economy is to not have people with money to spend.

“In an urban environment like Sheffield you want them to spend money on things like hospitality. If you don’t pay them then the economy is going to suffer.”

Ian Wild, chief executive of the Showroom Workstation, said the pandemic had had a ‘devastating impact’ on Showroom cinema.

He added: “We closed our doors on 18 March 2020 and apart from a short five week return in autumn 2020, we remained closed until 17 May 2021.

Corporation nightclub in Sheffield has received culture funding

"During this time, we applied for nearly all government grants available, to help us retain our team and keep our building in good repair.”

He said audiences had steadily grown since reopening and events such as Sheffield Doc/Fest had been key in attracting people back. Sheffield produced film Everybody’s Talking About Jamie had also been a ‘great success.’

He added: “It has been noticeable that younger customers have been the first to return to the cinema. Older customers have been slower to return, but our policy of social distancing in the auditoriums is helping to build confidence that we are a safe venue to visit.”

Also this week, it was announced that over £1.2 million has been invested into Sheffield’s cultural institutions from the third round of the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund, with £700,000 awarded to Sheffield Theatres Trust.

However, Global Database figures showed Sheffield Theatres Trust’s annual turnover dropped by over £3.5 million between 2019-2020, from just over £14.1 million to under £10.6 million.

Dan Bates, Chief Executive at Sheffield Theatres, said the recovery funds had been ‘absolutely vital’ and the theatre would not have been able to embark on ambitious plans to celebrate its anniversary without it.

He added: “This latest round will help to sustain us over the next few months. The festive period is always a critical time for us and we hope to welcome 60,000 people across our three Christmas shows.

"It will take some time for audience numbers to return to the level that they were, and this funding will help us to maintain our running costs over these winter months.”

Other venues which received funding include Corporation nightclub which was awarded £160,762. The Dorothy Pax pub gained just under £47,000, and Utopia Theatre, a specialist in African theatre, received £21,994.

And the South Yorkshire Cultural and Creative Industries Network, created to help support South Yorkshire’s cultural sector following the pandemic, will now hold its next event in Barnsley next Thursday December 2.

The event will take place at Barnsley’s Digital Media Centre and will centre around the theme of ‘Embracing Digital to Boost our Creative and Cultural Sector.’

It is free to join and will be held at Barnsley’s Digital Media Centre from 5.30pm to 8.15pm.

The event will feature a thought-provoking panel discussion with representatives from creative and digital organisations.

For further information and to register for a free place, visit www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/creative-network.