Due to government guidelines The Princess closed on 20th March losing 94% of our earned income, estimated at £83950 for 20/21 (£6995.83 pm). As a public venue that holds mass gatherings, we fall within the last phase of lockdown easement so it is reasonable to assume we will not achieve this level of income for some time.
Taking in to account obvious reductions in utilities due to lack of usage and having worked hard to reduce contractual commitments, our fixed costs (whilst closed) from June stand at £121320 annually (£10110 pm) a saving of £40058 (£3338.17 pm).
Unlike other theatres and arts centre’s, The Princess is unable to maximise government support with the expanded retail discount, the subsequent grant or the Covid Job Retention Scheme due to being a local authority operation with a subsidy greater than our income for 19/20. As we are run by local government, our budget has already been agreed and are therefore not expected to make any of our staff redundant.
Burnham on Sea and Highbridge Town Council have committed £72428 for 20/21. This leaves a shortfall of £48892 for 20/21 on fixed costs.
Thanks to the grant of £28649 from the Arts Council’s emergency National Lottery fund we will be able to sustain the Princess without income until early February. That leaves us with a shortfall of £16243 until the end of the financial year. I am working on funding to bridge this gap.
At this point I feel it necessary to open the conversation regarding our management structure. Had we been a charity or CIO (charitable incorporated organisation) more immediate funding would have been open to us. In the first instance we would have achieved the expanded retail discount, the subsequent grant as well as the possibility to furlough – giving us significant savings. In the second, it is complex locating funding streams that are open to local authorities that cover culture and the arts.
Return to business
Based on other theatres and galleries around the country, it is assumed that venues will not return to business until 2021. This does not take into account public confidence for attending mass gatherings, meaning there will be a lag in returning to the same income projection we left in March.
A return to business will require us to make a number of adjustments to the building to comply with social distancing rules and Health & Safety regulations, such as PPE, protective screens, signage and reducing the number of touch points for our customers. Due to a lack of published guidance for our industry, it is difficult to know what these costs will be, however, I have instructed the Theatre Operations Officer to work on a budget for equipment.
I am currently constructing a survey for our customers to complete that will allow us to gauge interest and willingness to attend venues in the future.
The Project Coordinator is currently in negotiation with the 2 contractors offering the lowest quotes. The project was predicted to have taken 12 weeks, it is reasonable to assume that this will be extended due to supply chains and social distancing measures.
As mentioned previously, we have pencilled a possible date in early 2021 but are keen to bring this forward during this period of darkness avoiding any further loss of income.
There has been no date set for when the hospitality industry can reopen. Our cohort of volunteers will be among the last to be fully released from lockdown, which not only leaves us with a necessary recruitment drive but without regular staffing for the space. We would not receive a good return on investment by opening the café with staff running the space due to the low level of income (approx. £310pm).
I have been attending Somerset venue manager’s meetings and, across the industry, it is likely that in the first instances venues will not operate a bar or even an interval during events.
It is my belief that we will struggle to open the café in its previous guise. Restrictions in terms of food safety, money handling as well as the health and safety of the volunteers means we should consider other options. The café and kitchen is such a significant unit; we need to look at positive outcomes for it.
If gallery spaces are among the first to reopen we could look at a reconfiguration whereby we see the theatre open as a space for the community to peruse. This would need planning in terms of risk assessments, fixed costs would increase along with investment of necessary PPE. We would also need to consider how it is manned and the safety of the exhibition itself.
Our website is up and running with new branding in place, Google Analytics, details on activities and regular news updates. We also have the facility to showcase digital exhibitions, of which we are on our second already this year.
I would like to thank Double Brace for their hard work and attention to detail in getting this project off the ground and giving the Princess the professional façade she needed.
Ticketsolve (ticketing system)
Our contract ended with our previous ticketing company and we have agreed a new contract with Ticketsolve which is now in place. Ticketsolve are an international company with great experience and a real focus on customer service both for us as their customer and for our customers.
Operating Box Office will now be much more professional, intuitive and easier to navigate for our volunteers and customers. This was a priority from a new supplier.
I have taken the decision not to actively sell tickets at this point in time, the reason being we are currently unclear when we will reopen and the rescheduling of both refurbishment and events leaves us with precarious timelines and possible drain on capacity.
We have, however, retained approx. 80% of our ticket sales which shows how much our customers are keen to get back to the Princess and how well thought of she is.
As of mid-June I would like to introduce memberships schemes. In the current climate these could be for 2 years as opposed to an annual subscription, which we will revert to when we return to full business. At the price of £30, the customer could receive a number of exclusive benefits such as reduced ticket rates on some productions, meet the star and invites to private views. I would be grateful of your feedback on this.
- ACE – As you all know we have received £28649. We are hugely grateful to the Arts Council for this emergency grant through National Lottery funds. This money is to cover income losses and 4 projects. These projects are:
- Princess Users Group – we have created a forum for our regular users (currently virtual), so we can build on the community success at the Princess and maintain strong communications with our groups.
- Princess Members – with the introduction of memberships (see above),I would like to give away 7 memberships to competition winners over the next couple of months.
- Princess Artists – we will be commissioning 10 local artists to create art work that will be reproduced both digitally and as a physical exhibition. The artists will receive £150 each to create their work.
- Princess Education – the recruitment and planning for creative workshops will begin in July. We will work with high quality local facilitators or companies to create school workshops that will in the future be presented at the Princess. The aim of this project is to allow children and young people to explore culture and the arts within the setting of a venue.
Arts Council funding is a huge stamp of approval for the hard work and success we have achieved since September 2019. They have recognised that work and show keen interest in our future projects. Venues such as the Princess Theatre are important to the Arts Council, they recognise that Sedgemoor is in the bottom 1/3 in the country to attend cultural events. By the Princess continuing to serve its community we are working in partnership with the Arts Council to deliver their aims and objectives.
- SDC – I have submitted an application to Sedgemoor for the discretionary grant of £10k, we await notice of our success at this stage.
- Digital fundraising – A digital fundraising campaign was launched 05.06. for funds directly to The Friends of the Princess.
- Private giving – with our new ticketing system every ticket purchase we will ask customers if they would like to support the Princess and her endeavours.
I am continuing my research in to available funds offered both locally and nationally.
This has been a very strange 3 months and not without its challenges. We have maintained contact with our volunteers, artists, community groups and supporters which has been gratefully received. It has been an active period of responding to the emergency and the immediate issue of the Princess’s survival. Now we must look towards the long term recovery, adapting to whatever changes we need to implement and stabilising the Princess’s future.