Kate Nicholls, CEO of UK Hospitality says culture and hospitality are vital to our recovery from Covid-19
Imagine if we lived in 'normal' times, right now you might be looking forward to a trip to the theatre to see a star-studded pantomime or to the cinema to see the latest festive blockbuster. Perhaps you’d venture into a pub or restaurant or even book an overnight stay in town. Cultural experiences like these are closely associated with Christmas for millions of people.
But as we all know, things are sadly very different due to Covid-19. Cultural and hospitality venues in our cities and towns have spent much of the year either shuttered or offering reduced, socially distanced, programmes.
The Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, an unprecedented £1.57bn, has been vital in securing the nation’s cultural infrastructure. Now we need to focus on what comes next and how culture, and the associated businesses, particularly cafes, pubs restaurants and hotels, can contribute to economic and social recovery.
Culture brings life and vitality to our town and city centres, bringing people together to experience everything from modern dance to pantomime. It already contributes a lot to our country’s economy, in 2018 for example, the arts and culture industry directly generated £28.3bn in turnover and supported190,000 jobs
The question is how do we make sure our cultural industries perform like this again over the coming decade? How do we make sure that our arts, so vital to our nation's economic and mental health and closely linked to our hospitality sector build back better and resume their role as the best of Britain both at home and abroad?
Before Covid, back in 2019, the Cultural Cities Enquiry – which UK Hospitality is a key member of - conceived a new vision for how we can radically improve the ability of towns and cities across the country to use culture to drive productivity and economic growth, even helping to save our ailing high streets in the process.
Now the enquiry has been reconvened to address the challenges of recovery and renewal in a post-pandemic world. It has put together a plan that will not only sustain the vital contribution of culture to our cities and towns, but also catalyse sectors such as hospitality to join culture in providing a powerful stimulus to the Government's levelling up agenda.
For example, we need to think differently about venues in a post Covid world. It may be months before theatres and cinemas can once again operate at full capacity. It may be a while before audiences feel comfortable enough to return, let alone enjoy the ‘full package’ of the night out, with food and drink topping off the experience. We need to change complex planning rules to allow cinema screenings or theatre to take part in other urban spaces, even car parks, where there is enough room to socially distance.
Creative use of these so-called transitional spaces (both inside and outside) can open up Covid-secure venues for cultural events and spill over commercial activity. We recommend a capital programme for small-scale investments to repurpose existing buildings and public spaces.
Alongside this, a cultural equivalent to the Eat Out To Help Out Scheme could subsidise ticket prices and get people back in the habit of going into our city centres to enjoy shopping and culture. The scheme was a crucial shot in the arm, keeping many hospitality businesses afloat when they were as vulnerable as much of culture is now.
At the heart of our package of measures is support for talent, we need to nurture a post Covid generation of performers, technicians and administrators, who can ensure the UK's international reputation for cultural excellence is upheld.
We believe adjustment to the Apprenticeship Levy rules, for example giving companies freedom to invest more than 25% of their Apprenticeship levy to creative and cultural organisations and redirect unspent levies to this sector.
The first Cultural Cities Enquiry report recommended cultural compacts, a way of bringing organisations together in a town or city to work together and share expertise - for example working together to contribute to plans to pedestrianise high streets, stimulate local tourism and optimise shared footfall with hospitality venues.
So far, more than 20 of these compacts have been formed and they are already showing results. In Sunderland for example, a Compact has delivered ten social prescribing pilots and in Coventry, which is City of Culture next year, is exploring how creativity and culture can reduce health inequalities as part of their Covid response plan.
There is no doubt the cultural sector faces huge challenges over the months that lie ahead. The Culture Recovery Fund was an important first step in stabilising the sector, but now we need high ambition, innovative thinking and action to help culture and hospitality face the future and play its part in national recovery.