"This past year has demonstrated to me how rich the cultural assets of our city are"

May is here and with it comes the perennial discussions of the old proverb and its meaning.

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 6:00 am
Professor Vanessa Toulmin.

The famous saying goes back in written form to the 16th century in Old Proverbs where it originally states as ‘T’ill May be out Ne’er cast a clout’.

Some will argue the May in the saying signifies the hawthorne blossom, others will take the line that it is the month of May.

Notwithstanding the interpretations of the proverb, the meaning is clear, do not be taken in by the sunny skies as the weather is still inclement and unpredictable so keep your coat on.

Who can't wait to go back to Sheffield theatres?

Strangely as I listened to the Prime Minister’s latest roadmap announcement on Monday regarding the relaxation of social distancing rules, and the rule of six indoors and the rule of thirty outdoors, the saying came into my head.

Obviously as I run an events team and generally in a non-pandemic year we operate over 200 public facing activities annually, the announcement was welcome.

A year has gone by when we have moved our activities to online platforms, conducted team meetings by digital hangouts and missed the excitement of a live audience for our events.

I have watched friends’ colleagues and family members in the cultural and creative industries go from operating vibrant successful operations to ones where they are barely holding onto financial solvency through no fault of their own.

Sector by sector the restrictions have been lifted, supermarkets have remained open and in April shops and public houses were allowed to open their doors with restrictions still in place.

Now it was our time.

I myself have longed for the time when I can watch a live theatre performance in person, enjoy the world-leading talents on display at the Crucible and the Lyceum and go to the Leadmill again, to name just a few of our cultural gems.

This past year has demonstrated to me how rich the cultural assets of our city are.

So I will no longer take for granted the opportunities I have to pop into the galleries and museums in our city centre, the wonderful range of heritage attractions that we have within the wider city limits and the incredible free events we have on offer as a city.

From Monday May 17 we can once again visit our museums, go to our theatres, and enjoy a meal inside a restaurant or café and visit friends and family in their homes.

So all should be good, economists and other well-meaning political advisors announce it will be like the Roaring Twenties again, as an eager locked in public flock to our events and venues.

But as I frantically work out the various connotations of enforcing a different set of criteria for less than a month as the road map will change again on June 21, I think of that saying in a different context and how it can be a useful strategy for understanding how our audiences will return.

If we replace the word pandemic for the proverbial May then some cautious heads will take the meaning to be the end of Covid and then run the risk of never leaving their home as we are told the virus will always be with us in one form or another.

If others take the lockdown roadmap to be the hawthorn blossom then we can plan and hope that audiences will return to reap the benefits some of the glories of the May sunshine and lockdown restrictions being lifted and it will be blue skies from then onwards.

With the English weather, the issue of May and casting your clout early or later is a perennial one and can always be mitigated with a sturdy umbrella and a raincoat.

With Covid and the new normal we have to understand that our audiences may at first err on the side of caution and may only want to take small steps out of lockdown in the beginning.

We as cultural providers, event managers and leisure suppliers must be prepared and hope for blue skies but understand that our audiences may not be as ready to cast a clout.

Our role is to reassure and give them hope but also be prepared for as slightly more realistic bumpier path than the roaring twenties metaphor which has been circulating around.

What we can take from the hawthorn blossom imagery is as the new growth blooms it signifies warmer days and as lockdown lifts, whether it be May or June, we all know that sunnier days will return.

This is the time for my Leadmill gig dream – pages 24 and 25.