How the Customs House in South Shields is hoping to cash in on new funding announced in Budget

The head of a much-loved South Shields arts and entertainment venue has welcomed a fresh funding injection for the struggling culture sector as part of the 2021 Budget, but said the theatre still faces a number of obstacles before it can welcome back audiences.

Ray Spencer, the executive director at the Customs House on Mill Dam, had highlighted the need for further Government support towards the end of last year, as his venue was faced with the prospect of an empty house over the Christmas period amid a winter spike in Covid-19 cases.

He has welcomed the news that his establishment could benefit from the newly-announced funding earmarked for the arts sector in the 2021 budget.

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The ailing arts and culture sector received a £408 million boost, via the Cultural Recovery Fund, while museums are set to be handed £90 million of emergency funding in order to help keep them afloat before they reopen on May 17.

The Custom House on Mill Dam, South Shields

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    Community cultural projects are also set to be given £18.8 million through the replenished arts funding pot.

    "I think that the money is welcome, of course,” Mr Spencer told The Gazette.

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    "There’s quite a lot of work to be done to ensure the venue is Covid-safe as well as plenty of work in terms building people’s confidence to return to the venue – that has to be done.

    “We’ve submitted our bid for the funding and we’ll find out at the end of March whether we’re successful or not.”

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    Customs House director, Ray Spencer, said that a number of questions still needed to be resolved before his team could plan to welcome back audiences

    Monday, March 15, will mark a year since the venue closed its doors as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.

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    Over the past 12 months, the Customs House has managed to offer audiences a small number adapted shows and performances.

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    He said that his team’s energies were now almost entirely focused on reopening the venue at the earliest viable point, but that a number of doubts were still hanging over and threatening to further delay the planned restart.

    "The money will undeniably help us,” he added.

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    "How much of it we’re going to get, we don’t know yet - how long it’ll last us, we don’t know yet.

    "Although we’ve been given a day to open, when we've spoken with people, they’ve told us they’re not going to come since we can only get half the audience in, because that’s one of the rules.

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    "We’re also uncertain whether there will be other kinds of lockdowns – local or otherwise – coming down the line, which would affect tours and it would be hard for producers to get the money to cover that.

    "So, although there’s money there, and although we have a roadmap towards reopening, there are still quite a few challenges facing us in terms of trying to get audiences back into the theatre.

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    "Any additional cash is obviously welcome. But really what we want to be doing is to employ people in the Customs House and performers to get an audience in so we can make an income again.”

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