Government ‘considering Seat Out to Help Out scheme’ to help concert halls and theatres

7 September 2020, 12:06 | Updated: 7 September 2020, 12:22

Ministers considering ‘Seat Out to Help Out’ scheme for theatres
Ministers considering ‘Seat Out to Help Out’ scheme for theatres. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

A new scheme is on the cards to help out concert halls and theatres, which are allowed to open with social distancing but, for the most part, remain financially unable to do so.

Arts venues have felt the deep impact of coronavirus lockdown. And while indoor performances have been allowed to return with limited audiences since 15 August, most shows need 70 to 80 percent capacity in order to be financially viable.

Now, as culture secretary Oliver Dowden says he is keen to help venues return by Christmas, it is said that ministers are considering a ‘Seat Out to Help Out’ scheme, to encourage audiences to attend concert halls and theatres again.

According to the Sunday Times, plans to open venues without social distancing are currently being “accelerated” by the PM, with officials being ordered to “move at extreme pace” to get venues back on their feet.

The same team who worked on the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ programme, which gave people up to 50 percent off food on Mondays to Wednesday in August, is said to be working on a similar subsidised scheme for arts venues.

It could also mean discounted meals for theatregoers on Mondays.

Read more: What are the new rules for rehearsals, concerts and live music venues? >

Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House. Picture: Getty

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Dowden signalled mass indoor events were within his “sights”.

He said: “We need to start filling seats in much larger numbers – not just for the audiences, not just for the venues and livelihoods who depend on them, but for the entire urban economy, too.

“Theatre is a lynchpin of London’s West End and its absence is painfully reflected in its deserted streets. Innovation is key. It has the ability to rewrite the entire script, and I’m keen to take some of the best experimental ideas for getting people into our theatres safely and put them into practice.”

Dowden also discussed improving ventilation or providing “quick turnaround testing” for theatregoers to check they don’t have the virus before attending a show.

The culture secretary added that those “waiting in the wings to get full performances back on during the crucial Christmas period” had his full support.

The ‘Seat Out’ idea has been floating on social media for the past week. But while theatre and music lovers have suggested various financial incentives, there is no detail yet on where the money could come from. A petition, which suggests that for every seat sold the government pay £10 for an empty seat, now has over 30,000 signatures.

Neil Mendoza, the commissioner for cultural recovery and renewal, is among those being consulted for the scheme. He said: “Eat out to help out was fantastic. Normally when you discount things it is seen as a bad thing to do. But in this case accepting discounts and going out was seen as a patriotic activity and a way to help a struggling sector. It was really effective.”

The Sunday Times signals that Mendoza wants to see big arts bodies, such as the Royal Opera House, offering discounted tickets to bring people back.

Many theatres and music venues are receiving a handful from the existing £1.57bn emergency arts pot. But so far, no new cash has been pledged for this ‘Seat Out to Help Out’ scheme.

Glyndebourne opera house, Cadogan Hall and the London Symphony Orchestra are among the first arts bodies to put on indoor concerts for reduced audiences. But many venues remain unable to do so with current distancing regulations.