Boss at the Customs House in South Shields says further government support is needed if venue is to survive

The executive director at a key South Tyneside arts and entertainment facility says the venue will require further government support if it is to survive beyond next March.

Monday, 7th December 2020, 4:25 pm
Updated Monday, 7th December 2020, 4:26 pm

Ray Spencer, who runs the Customs House theatre on Mill Dam, told The Gazette that, as his venue awaits the green light from government for its adapted Christmas programme, more financial aid would be needed in order to get beyond the first few months of 2021.

Mr Spencer is hoping the venue will be able to go ahead with its planned festive pantomime run, should South Tyneside be moved into Tier 2 of the Government’s local lockdown system later this month.

Until then, indoor entertainment remains prohibited under Tier 3, which the entire region moved into last week as this year’s second national lockdown was lifted.

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The Customs House, Mill Dam

“We have enough money to see us through to the end of March and retain the staff we still have,” Mr Spencer told The Gazette.

"I suspect there will have to be more financial support for the sector.”

The Customs House has been forced to shed more than half its staff this year, with the 72 employees who were on the books at the beginning of the pandemic having now been reduced to just 22.

Regardless of upcoming tier announcements, the venue says it will stream its Christmas panto show, Arbuthnot and Dame Bella’s Christmas Adventure, for residents unable to attend performances this December.

Customs House executive director, Ray Spencer

Mr Spencer said: "We are still keeping everything crossed that on 16th December they will review Tier 3, on 17th they’ll announce that we’re going into Tier 2...which means on the 19th we can open for five days...doing our Christmas show.”

He added that, had it not been for residents’ sustained backing, the venue would likely have closed for good this year.

He said: “They have saved the Customs House – their Customs House. They have kept us afloat with enough working capital because at one point it looked very grim.

"But we are hopefully going to trade again one day. Because, without people, a theatre is just a big black box.

The Customs House, Mill Dam

"We should be absolutely buzzing at the moment. The place would be absolutely alive, with three shows and an under-sevens show both bouncing along. And, instead, there’s nobody here. It’s very very sad.”

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