Arts Council England (ACE) has announced funding awards totalling £257 million for 1,385 venues, theatres, museums and cultural organisations across the country. 

The awards are administered by ACE on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as Round One of its Culture Recovery Fund (CRF). Among beneficiaries of this programme are six organisations in Hastings and Rother – see the table below.

There can be little surprise – save perhaps in the amounts – at the awards made to mainstream art galleries, the De La Warr Pavilion and cc, nor at those to the White Rock and Stables theatres. National or regional funding subsidies have in each case been an established norm of their artistic operations over many years. There is criticism, indeed, that it has taken so long for the need for additional support during the Covid-19 pandemic to be recognised. 

However, the award of over £237,000 to The Piper, a music venue in Norman Road, St Leonards that only started up in place of a pub, the Norman Arms, in June 2019, has certainly raised eyebrows. In a town brimming in normal times with a wide range of popular musical venues, events and musicians, professional or wannabe, how has it happened that one lately arrived venture has alone scooped the jackpot?

Continuing prospects

First, it should be noted that, according to Davina Christmas of ACE, “millions more pounds” worth of CRF funding are set to be announced over the coming weeks. They are also administering separate awards for Project Grants, including one headed Supporting Grassroots Live Music for live music venues and a Developing Your Creative Practice fund for individual artists and musicians. All of these are “now up and running”, she says. So there do seem to be continuing prospects for other organisations and individuals in the local cultural sector to get some financial help.

With respect to The Piper’s good fortune, as any prospective lottery winner can be safely advised, the first step is to buy a ticket. The stated purpose of the CRF is to enable cultural organisations that “were financially stable before Covid-19 but were at imminent risk of failure” to “recover from” or simply “survive” the restrictive conditions of the pandemic. The money provided has to be spent by the end of March 2021. 

The Piper clearly wrote up and delivered a persuasive application setting out a detailed programme of expenditure, and it has issued a statement on its Facebook page recognising its resultant obligations. 

“Crucial lifeline”

“We are delighted to announce we have received significant funding thanks to the government’s Culture Recovery Fund…This crucial lifeline will not only help secure the future of the pub and the venue, but also the various jobs it’s created and the platform we provide for both national & international bands to perform, as well as local great talent to cut its teeth. 

“The size of the award has understandably raised questions about why and how we’ve received this sum. That’s fair enough and we’re happy to clarify matters. We’re not in a position to comment on why other local venues did not receive as much or, in some cases, nothing at all. We can only state our own case, and are happy to do so.”

It goes on to explain that the money will help support operating costs that include underwriting the cost of putting on Covid-secure events involving extra screening and cleaning with only around 25-30% usual capacity. They say they are aiming to host a music programme of three or four such events each week.

Meanwhile it has emerged that, of all the applications submitted for CRF awards by cultural organisations in Hastings, only one – believed to be from the West Exit bar in Robertson Street – was declined, though it is not known on what grounds. So the better question is why other venues did not apply.

ACE criteria

One main reason seems to be that the criteria insisted upon by the ACE included evidence that the venue in question could or would fail altogether if support were not provided during the next six months. But many venues double as providers of hospitality in the form of food and drink as well as music output. The Albion, the Jenny Lind, the Dolphin and many other pubs offering live music struggled back into business over the summer following the easing of the initial lockdown. Ironically, had they closed down altogether like The Piper, they might have been able to present a much clearer case of need.

Some venues, however, seem simply to have failed to appreciate the potential value of a CRF windfall or else underestimated their prospects of getting a share of it. St Mary-in-the-Castle and Black Market VIP, for instance, might have been prime candidates but, for whatever reason, failed to apply.

One source from within the Hastings creative community commented to HIP that the town has suffered from a lack of cultural leadership within the borough council. In previous times its cultural officer – until recently Mike Hambridge – would have provided a bridge between local arts and music organisations and ACE, identifying suitable applicants and assisting with their bids. In Covid-19 times, such officers have been furloughed.

Getting lucky  

On the Hastings Creatives io. page there have been a number of postings criticising the award to The Piper, including queries as to how it could have proved its financial credentials prior to the pandemic in such a short timeframe, and adverse comments on its lack of disability access, also an alleged track record of underpaying musicians. But others recognise the benefit of at least one venue getting lucky.

“Look, they applied for funds and clearly it’s a mad amount”, one post comments, “but – hey – everyone else could have and should have applied, they didn’t. It now means that they have to pay Equity minimum or Musicians Union rates to all acts or they will be breaking Arts Council rules…Good news for local musicians, one hopes.”

Meanwhile Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, which represent grass-roots music, has welcomed the initial CRF awards as “a huge step forward in the efforts to reopen every venue safely.

“Our immediate focus now will be to work with every venue that was ineligible for funding, and any venue that was unsuccessful in their application to this fund, to ensure that at the end of this crisis communities right across the country have a thriving and healthy live music scene to return to.”

We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. You can also support local journalism by becoming a friend of HIP. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.