Written evidence submitted by Theatre Peckham




Parliamentary Committee

Call for evidence

Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors


The Organisation

Founded over 30 years ago, Theatre Peckham is a flagship cultural venue which serves its local community. We are situated on the border between Peckham and Camberwell (Southwark), the 2nd most employment-deprived area in London, 51% of households have an income of less than £15k pa and around one in three children aged under 16 years old live in low-income families. There are high rates of youth crime, as well as gangs who target young people. We are a trusted resource within the community, introducing disadvantaged young people to the arts in order to build life-skills, create opportunities, provide training and enable successful, productive, and happier lifestyles.


At our South London home, we provide a safe space for children, aged 3-25 years old to explore and negotiate their way in a changing world, as well as building a talent pathway into the creative industries. At the heart of Theatre Peckham's success is its world class creative learning and performance programme and our commitment to diversity and inclusivity.


Theatre Peckham is a Black female led Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation providing positive role models for young people and the wider community. From ACE we receive £143k annually. This contributes to our core costs. We apply for other core and project funding from a range of sources. Our creative programme of projects, shows and performances bring in earned income via box office tickets and hires.


The immediate impact of Covid-19  

As an organisation synonymous with inclusivity, accessibility and creativity our core mission is under threat. The closure of Theatre Peckham disrupted the service which we provide for children and young creatives, our inclusive performances are no longer available, and our talent development programmes have unsettled those who rely on us as a support system which maps-out their future.


The young people at Theatre Peckham are predominantlyfrom communities which have high rates of poverty and a greater number are from Black, Asian and Ethnic minority backgrounds who are disproportionately impacted by health inequalities. Across this time, we have seen an increased reliance on our parents as key workers not just in the NHS, making up a high proportion of frontline healthcare workers tackling this pandemic, but also in our supermarkets, care sector and cleaning services. Many of these roles have the least protection and are paid below living wage. This is evident from the phone calls that we made to all our members which made us acutely aware that the Covid-19 health emergency is affecting our vulnerable communities not only in financial terms but also in terms of their mental health and wellbeing as they cope with coronavirus related sickness and bereavement.


Many of our young people are telling us that they are experiencing anxieties about health, transitioning (moving/leaving school), some children in foster care have been moved to a temporary home, and ALL need a safe space to connect during this period of extensive isolation. We have repurposed project funding to maintain engagement by delivering online, telephone therapy and sending activities via post. These actions are vital in unlocking the creative potential of some of the most marginalised and unsupported individuals in the borough and are critical in reducing isolation and improving wellbeing. We continue to work diligently in order to prevent young people from slipping backwards, losing confidence, or worse.


The impact on funding and staffing

Our charity comprises of a 200-seat theatre, 3 studio spaces and a café/bar each of these areas bring in a significant amount of earned income. During this period our operational overheads continue to be paid and our Business Interruption insurance does not cover costs resulting from the pandemic. Like all subsidised theatres, we have had to refund ticket sales and hire deposits this has greatly impacted our cashflow position. We have furloughed 60% of the staff team, receiving 80% of their salary, to fight for our existence in the long term. Additionally, the current emergency prevents us from recruiting two new essential posts, replacing exiting Executive Director and Development Officer. The remaining staff are struggling, working from home with their own devices, lacking resources and equipment needed to carry out their full job descriptions. In addition to this we are fighting to support our freelance creative practitioners who are incredibly challenged by great loss of their income.


In the immediate short term, we were not eligible to apply for Arts Council England’s emergency fund, which is for organisations in crisis up to 1st September 2020. At the end of the year our financial situation will become critical, unless we can attract further grant support.


Long term we face a significant financial risk. As said previously, we are currently delivering services for our young people online with a reduced staff by repurposing our income from Trusts & Foundations. Unrestricted income, reduced as a result of Covid-19, puts us in a precarious position and makes it impossible to plan for the future. When we are able to reopen, like everyone, we are still unsure if people will return, how we will manage social distancing or reduced numbers. 


We anticipate that the effect of Covid-19 and recession will make funding in the future even more challenging and that venues we would ordinarily partner with will become more risk-averse and reliant on commercially viable projects. It seems likely that many small venues who would have traditionally been our partners will close permanently because of this pandemic, which will have a ripple affect among the smaller organisations and artists who work with them. Communities who have been hardest hit deserve to be supported by their government; we have a moral and social duty of care to remain an accessible resource in an area experiencing complex socio-economic factors. 


How effectively has the support provided by DCMS, other Government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?

The unknowns of the virus have meant that government advice and decision-making has felt unclear and too slow for community spaces like ours. We have lacked nuanced advice, as both a theatre and a community space, making it impossible to scenario plan and get some face to face interaction back as soon as possible for our community. Inevitably it has largely been left to me and the Board to make critical decisions, often with even less scientific data and information to go on than the DCMS has. This was particularly difficult for Theatre Peckham at the beginning as, following government guidelines, schools remained open whilst our creative classes for young people came to a halt.


The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been a lifeline and played a fundamental role in sustaining our staff and steadying our operational costs. One real challenge of the scheme has been the inability of furloughed staff to undertake any work for the organisation at all. The majority of furloughed staff in the arts sector want to work, and it would arguably be better for their mental health if they were allowed to do so on a voluntary basis.


Theatre Peckham is known for providing the wider arts sector, already under-represented, with the diverse workforce which it so greatly needs. We fear that the number of people from culturally diverse backgrounds will be forced to leave the industry resulting in long-term loss and undoing the vital impact which we have made over the years.


How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?

Recent events in the Black Lives Matters campaign have reinforced the disparities experienced by Black communities. Black, Asian and diversity ethnic staff require additional support and consideration to avoid falling out of the employment market. We’d like to see greater support in pathways to the arts so that we can ensure that those entering the creative industries are from representative backgrounds. In order to achieve this there needs to be a ‘local first’ approach to supporting organisations. Supporting local community organisations will activate local economies, build public confidence and support national health and wellbeing. We ask that ring-fenced priority is given to organisations already experienced in delivering arts engagement to marginalised and vulnerable local communities.


'Our lives matter - we aren’t just statistics and we don’t deserve to be treated like statistics. Black Lives Matter is a way of letting the wider society know that we matter and should be treated properly.’ Tyrell, 17.


Due to chronic under-funding of local authorities, the arts have filled a gap in local government provision for youth engagement, wellbeing, mental health and other types of social care. A sectoral plan needs to be developed which financially supports local arts organisations to deliver this work as a resource for schools and an essential strand within the National Curriculum. There will be long term social and mental health conditions arising from the pandemic. The creative economy is well placed to provide respite and creative support to people of all ages who have experienced personal loss or trauma. Our delivery adapted to provide a cathartic avenue for self-expression and help young people to understand difficult and tumultuous feelings. This work is crucial for the developmental phase in maturing and understanding emotions, behaviour and resilience, and needs to be embedded to initiate new growth and rebuild the economy.


It is more relevant than ever to provide opportunities in a safe space to socially integrate. There is an ever-increasing danger of disconnection as young people are being starved of the support they need to form positive attitudes about their future. Several ongoing studies, since 2010, looking at the symbiotic interchange between arts, cultural engagement, educational attainment and later life outcomes, have concluded that creative practices improve attainment across many other aspects of the school curriculum and has a wealth of other beneficial impacts on young people. A key strength of Theatre Peckham is the presence of epistemic trust, we know the young people in our community, we understand their familial and societal strains, and we can make change happen by listening to the community and allowing their voices to be heard.


Theatre Peckham is all about celebrating the diversity of identities and experiences that really brings up an authentic truthful flavour to the work that we do. Theatre Peckham IG Live and Direct platform for young voices.


Suzann McLean, CEO/Artistic Director

Theatre Peckham

18 June 2020