£2.6 million boost to spark post-lockdown cultural revival across Shropshire

The county’s arts and cultural scene has been given a £2.6 million boost as museums, theatres, and festivals plan for post-lockdown life.

The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust got the most culture fund money of any Shropshire organisation
The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust got the most culture fund money of any Shropshire organisation

The Government has shared the money, from the second round of its ‘Cultural Recovery Fund’, across 18 Shropshire organisations – with groups hailing the support a “lifeline” as they look forward to the prospect of getting back into business as Covid restrictions ease.

The three largest awards have gone to the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (IGMT), which gets £1.14m, Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury which receives £532,978, and Albert’s Shed, which gets £252,000.

A number of other major county events and groups are also receiving money, including Shrewsbury Folk Festival, Shrewsbury Food Festival, Ludlow Fringe, Ludlow Assembly Rooms, Oswestry Community Action (Qube), The Hive, Wem Town Hall, and The Arts Centre Telford.

For all it provides a vital lifeline after 12 months with either no income at all, or sporadic and reduced opening.

Cultural Recovery Fund: Who benefits in Shropshire

  • Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust – £1.14m

  • Theatre Severn – £532,978

  • Albert's Shed – £252,500

  • Get Your Wigle On – £142,000

  • Arts Alive – £64,182

  • Shropshire Festivals – £50,000

  • Ludlow Fringe – £49,950

  • Shrewsbury Folk Festival – £45,265

  • Ludlow Assembly Rooms – £45,000

  • Wem Town Hall – £41,582

  • Wildcard – £36,725

  • Disability Arts in Shropshire – £35,000

  • Oswestry Community Action (Qube) – £30,515

  • The Hive – £30,000

  • Shrewsbury Food Festival – £27,500

  • The Arts Centre Telford – £26,050

  • The Green Gathering – £25,000

  • Upstart Projects – £19,695

Nick Ralls, chief executive at IGMT, which runs attractions including Blists Hill and Museum of the Gorge, said the funding was a major boost for an organisation which relies on tickets sales and visitor spending for 80 per cent of its income.

While it was able to open for periods last year, and received £1.8m in the first round of funding, it was still only able to operate at 35 per cent of normal capacity.

Mr Ralls said: “The difference this makes is immense. The Cultural Recovery Fund in general has been absolutely superb because it has been very difficult.

“We are a cultural institution, custodians of this fantastic place, and our main way of keeping the buildings and the collections in condition is through ticket revenue, so as soon as we went into lockdown in March we lost that vital income.

Nick Ralls is the chief executive of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

“But our overheads are still significant, so even with furlough, with a large estate, collections that need to be kept at the right temperature – because that is what you have to do to stop them deteriorating – there are things people do not see on the face of it, security, insurance, making sure fire alarms are tested, it means there is a significant cost every day to maintaining us as a cultural destination.

He said: “This financial boost is not only vital for us, but for the wider community and local tourism economy – the local hotels, cafes and B&Bs that rely on trade from our visitors to survive.”

Mr Ralls revealed that some of the money will be used to install a new lighting system at Blists Hill Victorian Town that will allow the outdoor attraction, which will reopen on April 17 and 18, while running at a reduced capacity, to open for longer during the autumn and winter, with a programme of evening events planned for later on in the year.

He said: “Being able to offer people the chance to see Blists Hill lit up in the evening with our new lighting will add a new dimension to the special atmosphere.”

Theatre Severn has been given more than £500,000 by the fund

Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury, which is run by Shropshire Council and has been hosting a Covid testing centre, has received the second largest award of more than half a million pounds.

Mark Barrow, executive director of place at Shropshire Council, said the funding would allow the theatre to plan for the return of events with confidence.

He said: “We’re thrilled to receive funding from the Culture Recovery Fund.

“Staff at Theatre Severn have worked tremendously hard to find new ways to bring the theatre to audiences and to support the Covid-19 support effort in the county, with the venue even recently becoming a walk-in rapid testing centre.”

Albert’s Shed is also another notable recipient receiving £252,500.

The organisation, which hosts live music, has two venues – one in Shrewsbury and another in Southwater, Telford.

Live music venue Albert's Shed, which started in Shrewsbury, has been given more than £250,000

Shropshire Festivals and Shrewsbury Food Festival, will receive £50,000 and £27,500 respectively, and Beth Heath, ‘director of fun’ at both, said the money “means we have a future”.

She said: “We would have been without any income for 18 months and you simply cannot manage for that long. It makes such a difference and it helps get the money starting down the chain to the suppliers.”

Shropshire Festivals is responsible for a host of events, such as Shropshire Kids Festival and Oktoberfest, with other suppliers relying on the income they get from being asked to take part and provide services.

Beth added: “As soon as we were told we started booking with people for the infrastructure. It means those businesses have the confidence that they can move forward. There are a lot of people affected and the main thing to remember is the money drops down. It does not go into our pockets, it goes to those businesses which are also affected by the pandemic.”

Amid many of the difficulties facing the business has been the layout on booking venues for future events – to take place if and when allowed.

Amir Wilson, star of His Dark Materials, fell in love with acting with Shrewsbury group 'Get Your Wigle On' which has been given £142,000

Some bookings take up thousands of pounds, with some of the events not taking place until at least next year.

Shrewsbury Folk Festival, one of the biggest dates in the county’s calendar, has been given £45,265 after last year saw the four-day event cancelled – it is planned to take place this year, from August 27 to 30.

Festival Director Sandra Surtees said the funding was “incredibly welcome” as the festival had been through a long period with no income.

Get Your Wigle on in Shrewsbury, a musical theatre company with a fully equipped studio who host training and workshops for more than 600 people each week, has also received £142,000.

Company director Ross Wigley, said: “This funding has given us a huge lifeline and will provide us with an opportunity to return to a pre-Covid standard of productions."

Announcing the funding, Secretary of State for Culture, Oliver Dowden, said it was vital to support the culture sector given the challenges of the last 12 months.

He said: “Our record-breaking Culture Recovery Fund has already helped thousands of culture and heritage organisations across the country survive the biggest crisis they’ve ever faced. Now we’re staying by their side as they prepare to welcome the public back through their doors – helping our cultural gems plan for reopening.”

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