Written evidence submitted by West Midlands Culture Response Unit


A collective response to the DCMS Select Committee call for evidence on impact of Covid-19 on DCMS Sectors from West Midlands Culture Response Unit.

Introduction and Context

I am writing  as Director of Culture Central, a West Midlands based Cultural Sector support organisation which is leading the West Midlands Culture Response Unit, representing  a group of over 100 arts and cultural organisations in the West Midlands during the Covid-19 Crisis. Our purpose is to work together to ensure the visibility, viability and recovery of the arts and cultural sector in the West Midlands.

Amongst the cultural bodies we represent are The Royal Shakespeare Company, Birmingham Royal Ballet, CBSO, Warwick Arts Centre, the majority of regional NPO’s, independents, freelance artists and practitioners. Partners include Arts Council England (Midlands), Birmingham 2022, Coventry City of Culture 2021, West Midlands Combined Authority, including the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street and their Cultural Leadership Board, West Midlands Tourism Board, Regional Local Enterprise Partnerships and Local Authorities across the region.  


COVID-19 has struck the sector severely. With all theatres, galleries, museums, and other venues closed completely, earned income channels have been reduced or halted completely, with organisations having to rely on reserves, grant funding and the staff retention scheme to survive.

What the West Midlands and wider Cultural sector need:


What has been the immediate and likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 on the sector?

Since the beginning of lock-down we have conducted a number of region wide surveys to capture the impact of Covid-19 across the sector.

Our most recent survey 3 weeks ago and additional research highlights:











We are acutely aware that our organisations cannot just ‘open’. They need time to prepare, create, rehearse and produce, make changes to ensure suitable safety compliance and reconnect with lost audiences. There are significant concerns about audience’s willingness to return even if we are able to open.  (Audience Data sourced from Indigo survey – ‘after the interval’) 

This presents long term challenges of income generation, with the levels needed to maintain our staff, buildings, creative output, and supply chains unlikely to be realised over the next 6-12 months.




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

The Staff Retention Scheme and Self Employed Support Scheme have ensured the survival of many organisations in short-mid term, and Arts Council England’s Emergency response Package was also a lifeline for many organisations and individuals.

The phasing and ending of these schemes, however, are resulting in organisations starting redundancy processes as many venues and organisations will not be able to earn income in this calendar year in order to retain staff.

The lack of delivery and ability for venues to re-open and deliver work has a significant impact on the freelance sector and smaller organisations, who would normally produce and present work in those venues.

There are also a number of gaps for individuals who have been ineligible for support and loans are not possible, and for many cultural organisations due to not-for profit/charity status.

What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?

Arts Council England has been exceptional in its speed at addressing needs and re-focussing funding.

Announcing the recommendations to stay away from venues and subsequently closures, in the way it was done, was harmful to the sector. With no initial guidance, schools and communities were unsure as to whether they were allowed to continue activity, and the sector respected the announcements and voluntarily shut as it was deemed the ‘right thing to do’.

The next phase of announcements should not have the reverse affect. Messages from government, health officials and local authorities need to be vocal about the safety of participating in arts and cultural activity.

We would like to see evidence of an understanding of business models and the unique challenges that the sector is facing. The majority of the arts and cultural sector are not-for-profit or charities and do not have the ability to return profits as other sectors might.

Making the case for investment in Culture in the West Midlands, the economic value of the regions cultural sector and the impact on our future major events:

The West Midlands is in a unique position, as a region that, is projected to be one of the worst affected, it is also hosting two of the largest cultural events in the UK calendar in the next 2 years.

A comprehensive survey of the value of culture as an economic activity in its own right showed that in 2015, culture contributed £19.5bn GVA to the economy, paid £2.6bm in taxes – £5 for every £1 of public funding – and employed more than 130,000 in largely well paid, highly skilled jobs.






The creative industries, culture, tourism and the visitor economy are crucial catalysts of economic growth and account for around 15% of regional jobs, many of them high value – with the cultural sector being at the heart of all these related activities. Along with placemaking these activities are key drivers of quality of life and act as a catalyst for inward investment, social cohesion, and wellbeing and are strong influencers of where we want to study, work, live and bring up our families.


With the imminent arrival of major events like British Art Show, Coventry 2021, and Birmingham 2022, the region is entering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have the world focused on us, enabling a 10-year period of cultural investment that will permanently strengthen our economy. It is essential that we capitalise on the £700m+ invested into both major events to get the full multiplier and legacy impacts. These impacts include £1.3bn+ of economic value from UK City of Culture and an increase in our £13bn visitor economy (2019), as well as growth in our creative businesses, clusters and our influence both nationally and globally.


Covid-19 has hit culture and tourism very hard. When this Covid-19 impact is combined with the pre-existing challenges facing retail and high streets, it is estimated that fully £400m, or 30% (estimate),  of the projected economic gains from City of Culture and Commonwealth Games could be lost forever unless investments are made into the sector. Without the ability to invest into the cultural infrastructure and ecology of the region, the West Midlands as a region could fail to maximise the benefits from not just one, but two major game changing opportunities which have delivered significant economic and social benefits in other places such as Hull, Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool.

Experience has shown that major events can have catalytic economic impacts. The Glasgow Games (2014) helped the city to re-position as a ‘world-class destination’ and as a leading innovator, with 1,600 new cross-sectoral partnerships. Detailed evaluation of Hull’s year as the UK City of Culture has evidenced the strong contribution that culture can make to these impacts:



A CEBR report on the spill over impact of arts and culture through tourism showed that in 2011 10 million inbound visits to the UK involved engagement with the arts and culture, representing 32 per cent of all visits to the UK and 42 per cent of all inbound tourism related expenditure and amounting to £7.6 billion. CEBR estimated total spending by visitors to the UK that was directly motivated by the arts and culture amounted to at least £856 million. The UK’s night-time economy, estimated at £66bn, is also largely underpinned by cultural activity.


Culture has a unique catalysing role to play in ‘levelling-up’ and regeneration. Research on US business investment decisions shows that residential environment and social and cultural amenities came 7th out of 29 factors that influenced the initial decision to locate to a place. Recent research by NESTA[i] has shown that there is evidence that skilled workers in the UK do sacrifice higher wages to locate in areas with strong cultural clustering. One recent paper has shown that neighbourhoods in London and New York with high cultural capital, do see higher than average rises in houses prices in succeeding years.

In addition to tangible economic gains, culture assists placemaking and social cohesion. Participating in cultural activity supports children’s achievement in other subjects, and makes them more likely to go on to get a degree. There is also a big impact on young people’s soft and transferable skills, with ‘structured arts’ activities significantly increasing cognitive abilities and transferable skills scores.. These economic and social gains from culture, however, are dependent upon financial resilience within the sector.


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

The Sector is already responding with unprecedented resilience and innovation in pivoting priorities, financial planning and collaborations, taking work online and exploring how to create and present art in safe ways, such as shared spaces, public realm and outdoor work, live and digital.


However, these innovations cannot be realised without investment in new infrastructure and financial models, as well as resource for staff to create, produce, perform and support. With staff on furlough and no income the ability to take risks and invest in these models is challenging.


In addition to the wider sector recovery package we propose investment for the following in the region:






The subsided arts sector is the talent, development and inspirational pipeline to our global economic and repetitional success. Without major intervention this pipeline will be decimated and the significant financial, cultural, social and health benefits it provides will be compromised if not eradicated for years to come.


Erica Love

Director, Culture Central


*research references available on request

**List of organisations represented available on request