London’s move into Tier 3 on 16 December is a huge blow for us. We had brought back our staff after nine months’ closure and were just seeing the green shoots of recovery after the longest closure since the Second World War. We had been planning for months in order to be able to reopen in a Covid-secure way, with an audience of just 1,000 – 20% of our normal capacity – and it was so thrilling to return last week for the Royal Choral Society and Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas.
Tonight we will have our final concert of 2020. Handel’s Messiah is a Royal Albert Hall tradition, having been performed here 524 times since 1872, so welcoming our final 1,000 customers this evening will be especially poignant.
When our Christmas season went on sale in December 2019, none of us could have imagined where we would be today. But despite hundreds of cancelled shows since March, it seemed possible that we could salvage a Christmas season. What is usually around 32 performances became 14, then The Nutcracker and My Christmas Orchestral Adventure fell victim to the impossible financial picture. Christmas carols were planned – at full capacity, then at 50% and then at 20%. We had hoped to make up for the lost income by streaming a carols performance across the world. But it was not to be, and following the announcement yesterday of a move into Tier 3 tomorrow, our considerably-reduced season of 14 performances ended up being just three performances to 1,000 people each.
Of course, we will always follow all government guidance and take our responsibility very seriously to keep our audiences, our artists and our staff safe at all times. We have implemented Covid-secure measures including sanitisers, signage, one-way systems, sanitising stations, instructional videos and Perspex screens. This is a particularly bitter pill to swallow because visitor attractions account for 0% of community transmissions of the virus, and there is no evidence of customers having been infected in theatres or concert halls.
Sadly, because this cancellation comes so late in the day, we have already committed a huge amount of resource to the performances including marketing, bringing staff back to work and remobilisation training. We will now refund almost £500k in tickets for Christmas performances and streamed concerts. This is on top of the £30m lost income and £8.9m in tickets and fees we have already refunded in 2020.
The Hall has been offered a £20.74m loan from the £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund – a lifeline to help us get back on our feet, which we hope to receive by April 2021. The loan will enable us to repay our £5m Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme loan, cover some of our net deficit, and restore our minimum reserves.
The Christmas season was intended as a further investment in our future – protecting jobs, giving work to suppliers and freelancers, and fulfilling significant audience demand. We are so disappointed that we have to cancel these performances but cannot wait to return, safely, to full capacity audiences for our 150th anniversary in 2021.
CHRISTMAS SEASON TIMELINE
December 2019 – full season on sale at 100% capacity
March 2020 – theatres and concert halls closed to the public
July 2020 – Culture Secretary announces £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund
August 2020 – Stage 4 DCMS roadmap, socially distanced audiences are permitted
September 2020 – Culture Secretary announces ‘Operation Sleeping Beauty’ to bring back “the magic of theatre for families this Christmas”
September 2020 – Hall announces reduced Christmas season at 50% capacity
November 2020 – Tier 2 limits audiences to 1,000 – 20% capacity
December 2020 – Hall offered £20m loan from £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund
December 2020 – London in Tier 3, all performances cancelled
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