Camberwell and Peckham’s vibrant arts scene is central to our local economy, our communities and the identity of this area, writes Harriet Harman…
From Camberwell College of Arts, to Theatre Peckham and Mountview, and live music venues like the Bussey Building, our arts hubs have launched many successful careers and are a real asset to us. And thousands of creative people who work in the arts live here, from designers to those working in film and tv, musicians and artists.
And over the months when we’ve all been locked down in our homes, even more people have come to realise just how important music, film and art is to our wellbeing and identity.
Yet here and across the UK many arts venues are facing bankruptcy. And many who work in the creative industries have lost all their work and wonder whether there will ever be a future for them in the arts again.
The creative workforce, from production crews, to front of house staff, musicians and actors, most of whom are self-employed, have faced months without work and income as venues suddenly closed and contracts halted to comply with government rulings on social distancing.
I wrote to the chancellor back in April highlighting this as a problem and urging him to set up an emergency fund to ensure the creative industries and all those who work in the performing arts survive the COVID crisis.
The creative industries are a huge success story, both at home and abroad. They contribute over £100 billion to the UK economy every year and are vital to our culture and place in the world.
They’re our third most profitable industry and have for the past decade grown faster than the rest of the economy despite difficult times and government cuts. When the COVID crisis is over we will need the creative industries to still be there for us and to be able to play a leading role in our economic recovery.
That’s why it’s so important that after months of pressure the government this week announced a £1.57bn support package to help protect the future of theatres, galleries, museums, music and cultural venues.
I’m glad the government has listened to the sector. This will be a great relief to the 1000s of people in Camberwell and Peckham who work in the creative industries and all of us whose lives are enriched by music, theatre and art.
With still no sign of an end to the pandemic and no certainty when venues can reopen safely this fund is desperately needed to save venues and sustain the creative workforce.
But really important questions remain. How will the government support the 1000s of talented freelancers who are the core of this industry?
Most of the people who have contacted me for help are freelance actors, musicians, TV producers or gallery staff. Many tell me they have fallen between the government’s two COVID income support schemes and feel they have been abandoned. One woman contacted me desperately anxious because like so many, Universal Credit was her only income as her work dried up, but it was insufficient to cover even her monthly rent.
Self-employed people, those working on fixed-term PAYE contracts or operating as limited companies still do not have the financial support they need and the danger is that many may be forced to abandon the creative industries altogether.
The government has yet to say how they will make sure the money gets to those in the creative industries and how the grant application process will work. But it needs to help our and venues but also the creative workforce.
The arts are about our flagship venues and heritage buildings like the Royal Albert Hall, English National Opera and the National Theatre but they are about much more than that.
The local ecosystems that underpin these venues need to be protected. The arts are also very much about the youth theatres, the independent galleries, and the small music venues that are the centre of communities and provide opportunities to those who don’t feel able to go to the more expensive or larger arts institutions.
I’ll continue to liaise with local venues and artists and press the government to ensure that they get the money out quickly and continue to support the sector until such time as it’s all fully open – whenever that will be!