Over a thousand professional performances for rural audiences with a combined value of nearly £300,000* have been cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic across the UK. That’s the figure that has been calculated by research conducted by the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF), the Arts Council funded body which acts as the umbrella and advocacy organisation for the 30 rural touring schemes across the country.

The impact of these changes to schedules is huge in terms of finance and performance numbers. Although most schemes have pledged to financially support artists where possible, with a combined pay-out of cancellation fees of £170,000, the long-term impact is still unknown. Many organisations involved, ranging from village halls to regional touring schemes, as well as individual volunteer promoters and staff working in the sector, are now at risk of not returning to service – or with ambitions severely damaged. Many artists, many of whom specialise in rural touring, are now also looking for support to keep their livelihoods intact.

Rural touring is made up of professional productions and shows taking place throughout our nation’s village halls, community centres, outdoor spaces, pubs and libraries. An average year sees over £1 million taken on box office sales. Like performances and creative platforms across the globe, they too have closed their doors and taken seasons off sale. The UK’s rural programming schemes have been in crisis mode over the past four weeks, managing cancellations and postponements to over 1,000 events which were still scheduled for their spring seasons.

Due to the continuing public health crisis, rural and community touring arts organisations are unsure of when normality will reside or when they can continue to plan for the next season. The rural touring sector’s foremost concern is the safety and wellbeing of audiences, voluntary promoters, artists and staff. Schemes have deep personal connections in their rural communities. Audiences and volunteers are often drawn from vulnerable and at-risk categories.

“As Chief Exec [of a Scheme], I’ve had to make the decision to furlough almost all staff, and within the week, [I] will probably be running our 12-person organisation single-handedly. We have safeguarded artists and staff costs, but it will take an immense personal toll” – NRTF member Rural Touring Scheme

NRTF has been advocating on behalf of creatives and cultural organisations in rural areas to have access to emergency funds. NRTF hosts weekly conversations with schemes, rural touring artists and promoters, which are galvanising a combined response with a view to establishing stability where possible and then looking to a creative future.

“It is more important than ever to secure the strength and spirit of the rural touring sector and to ensure the hardest to reach communities continue to benefit from a diverse programme of arts and cultural. NRTF are helping to create the condition to sustain hope for their members and their communities” – Holly Lombardo, NRTF Director

NRTF continues to work to support the resilient recovery of the sector beyond the pandemic.

* These costs range from £2500 to over £80,000 to individual schemes.

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