'We're fighting against the odds so people can be here'

The lasting effects of the pandemic on Liverpool's arts venues — and the rest of your weekly briefing

Dear readers — today we have a packed briefing with a beautiful home of the week in Birkenhead, a story about the renaissance of mullets on Merseyside, and a recommended read about whether the government’s controversial new rail plans are actually a “coup” for Liverpool. We also take a look at a new injection of cash into arts venues across the city region, and whether it will see them through the winter.

But first: A big thank you to everyone who has already signed up as a member of The Post. We now have a growing community of members and we hope you’re enjoying hearing from us more regularly. If you haven’t got round to joining yet, just hit the button below. It’s just £7 a month, or £65 a year.

Our first members-only story last week was a fascinating piece about how young people get sucked into Merseyside’s crime gangs. Our reporter Mollie Simpson spoke to an academic who has interviewed dozens of young people and she also went to a conference where experts debated how to tackle the problem.

This weekend we ran a brilliant weekend read by the historian Dr Thomas McGrath about Harrington, Liverpool’s failed suburb: “The name Harrington barely registers in Liverpool today, yet Toxteth is well-known. Had history played out differently Toxteth could have been synonymous with elegant Georgian townhouses and villas, an easy rival to the architectural splendour of Bath, Edinburgh or London.”

Welcome to our new members who signed up after reading that piece. Your first members-only story will drop into your inbox tomorrow. And it’s a lovely one.


⛅️ This week’s weather


📈 Covid-19 update

The case rate for Liverpool City Region is 353.8, up 4.8% from last week, compared to England’s 413, up 12.2%. The case rate is the number of new cases per 100,000 residents over a week. Rates are highest in Halton and St Helens, around 400, and infection rates are lowest in Liverpool and the Wirral, around the 300-mark. See the dashboard below — for our new subscribers, it refreshes daily, so just click on it to be updated with the latest figures.


The big story: Can the culture recovery fund save Merseyside’s theatres?

The top line: 22 arts organisations across Merseyside have just received the last installment of funding from the Arts Council’s Culture Recovery Fund. The fund was set up by the government to mitigate the economic damage caused by the pandemic and social distancing measures.

Context: Arts venues suffered more than a year of low or zero revenues during the pandemic, and have been heavily reliant on Arts Council support. A new report from the University of Sheffield says arts venues were hit the hardest in the pandemic, with 450,000 people being furloughed.

The Bluecoat’s CEO Mary Cloake told us her annual turnover (it was £1.8 million in 2019) fell by £700,000 during the pandemic — largely as a result of losing commercial income from the cafe, bistro, and art courses. She told The Post:

We do a lot of work with people who are vulnerable and people who wouldn't normally have access to arts activities, and all that work is subsidised by our commercial operating income, so the pandemic has been a real blow. We were really pleased when we we were allocated this [funding] because it's going to help us to keep the doors open.

Iain Christie, head of marketing for the Royal Court, said the theatre’s income was reduced to “pretty much nothing” during the pandemic. Annual audience numbers dropped from 180,000 to 5,000 — with a few shows running intermittently during winter 2020. He says they were lucky to have had two strong years before the virus came along. When the first lockdown was announced, management sent around an email reassuring staff they would all be fully paid.

The numbers: Among the beneficiaries of the funding were Camp and Furnace, who received £331,548, the Invisible Wind Factory, District, and 24 Kitchen Street. The Bluecoat just got £155,000 from the Arts Council. The Royal Court received its first grant of £729,000 last winter, and has had two installments of £340,000 this year.

Christie told The Post:

The first challenge was about rebuilding and trying to replenish what we'd already spent. [The funding] allowed us to open up at 50% capacity last winter and absorb the loss of revenue because we were running at a loss every every week. And then this final bit is about getting us through Christmas and giving us the ability to absorb things, like the Covid outbreak that happened with staff last year. It just allows you to have that safety net, so whatever Covid throws at you, you’ve got a Plan A, B, and C.

Cloake says her team are concerned the funding won’t make up for the losses they sustained during the pandemic and predicts that Bluecoat’s commercial income will take a while to return to pre-pandemic levels. “We’re very concerned about the period after January. We’re fighting against the odds so people can be here,” she says.

  • They are looking for ways to continue subsidising their nonprofit projects such as Blue Room, an art programme for people with learning disabilities.

Bottom line: Theatres in particular are extremely reliant on the revenue they earn at Christmas. As we reported recently “Christmas shows are a huge part of the Royal Court’s programming, constituting eight of its top ten best selling shows over the last 15 years.” Having a strong festive period will be a “springboard” for a healthy spring, says Christie. “That's more about how people are going to behave after lockdown,” he adds, “Because I don't know about you, but I find myself doing less. And I think there's a general feel of that at the moment.”

Go deeper: Read Vicky Anderson’s brilliant feature about the return of panto in Liverpool.

“CAN SOMEONE GET AARON’S ‘OOP AND PULL IT DOWN PLEASE,” yells one of the crew from behind the camera. The skirt, that is. Then there are smaller details to see to, like finding the missing cravat from the prince’s costume, and a debate as to whether the fairy’s wand looks too much like an icicle.


Other local news in brief

The Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes said he did the right thing by welcoming the Remembrance Sunday bomber Emad Al-Swealmeen into the church, following criticism from the Home Secretary and sections of the media. “We didn't welcome a terrorist, we welcomed someone who was a little bit lost and not in his own nation and who was on a journey,” says Bayes. Read more.

The Museum of Liverpool is going to play host to a major foreign policy meeting next month. The G7 summit of Foreign and Development Ministers will discuss global health, human rights and economic resilience post-pandemic. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, said: “The meeting of G7 Foreign and Development Ministers in Liverpool next month is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the city to the world, highlighting the best of British culture, commerce and creativity.” Read more.

Sefton councillors have backed plans for a new housing development on Orchard Farm — as long as the developers commit to feeding the wild geese who migrate there every winter from Iceland and Greenland. A commuted sum of £115,000 would be required for the development to go ahead. The developer said: “We have a mitigation approach in place to protect migratory habitats of pink-footed geese.” Read more.

The future of mullets is looking bright, according to a local barber who says he’s seen a resurgence in customers asking for the “business at the front, and party in the back” look that was popular in the 1980s. “I think it started with students who have moved here but it could become a wider thing,” said Rob McClintock, manager of the Barbers No1 store opposite Whitechapel. Read more.

The Labour leader of Warrington council Russell Bowden is due to appear in court in December for alleged election offences. He is being charged with three counts of providing false information to a registration officer and one count of providing a false statement in nomination papers. Read more.


Home of the week

This beautiful 6-bedroom Victorian house in Birkenhead looks over the River Mersey and retains gorgeous original features. Walk through the garden and there’s a decked seating area with views over the water’s edge. Offers start in excess of £500,000.


Post Picks

🎞 They’re showing The Grinch at the festive drive-in cinema in St Helens, which has a range of food stalls for snacking and makes for a lovely cosy family evening. It’s on this Saturday evening. Book here.

🎨 Our favourite exhibition at the moment is Is This It? at the Royal Standard in West Derby. John Elcock explores the symbolism of birds, and we like Robert Flynn’s exhibit on doctored images. It’s free, but you have to email to book a place.

🎶 A new production, The Musical of Musicals… The Musical! is showing at Hope Street Theatre and it looks great. Our culture writer Vicky Anderson says it has an amazing local cast and shouldn’t be missed. Book here.

🎷 Jazz nights are on every Wednesday at Camp and Furnace in L1. No ticket is required, and you can expect a blend of genres and styles of jazz. Turn up early for Happy Hour, stay late for an informal jam session. More info here.

🦎 A beautiful documentary by a young filmmaker about the fight to save a critically endangered salamander in Mexico, and the unlikely collaboration between Chester Zoo researchers and a band of Mexican nuns. Watch here.

🍺 Looking ahead, there’s a beer festival at the Bombed Out Church this weekend serving “classic, no-nonsense stout” as well as tropical ales and gins. There’s also live music on Saturday and Sunday. More info here.

🖌 And finally, there’s a new art display at the Tate featuring Picassos and Brancusis which looks at the complex Western ideals of beauty, and the myriad ways in which heritage and identity are explored by artists. It’s free — more info here.


Our favourite reads

There is a great new interview with Barry, the bee whisperer of Toxteth, in Big Issue North. We loved the detailed vignettes of Barry tending to the bees, and especially this passage: “After some time searching, the healthy queen is located. She’s shaped differently from the worker bees, with a longer abdomen and legs. There’s something quite mystical about her presence among the rest of the bees. After a few seconds, she disappears back into the crowd and Barry continues with his duties — improving the framework of his main hive and making sure the rest of the beehives on the strip are all in working order.”

An elegant essay by Francis Hodgson in the contemporary photography magazine 1000 Words Mag, analysing the work of Liverpool photographer Tom Wood. She writes: “People are often kind or gentle in Tom Wood’s pictures, even in the meanest-looking of circumstances. It is not a style, and it is not a technique, and it is not even really a subject. It is a mistake to think of what Wood does as reportage or street photography or this or that benighted project. He is just a man who has found the means to say important things to those who take the trouble to care.”

We came across this old interview on the Life in Liverpool blog and thought it was a beautiful piece of writing. It features a local woman called Lil Clarke — “all four feet two of her, though she was once four foot eleven and still claims to be four foot nine” — and tells her story. “‘He was a nice dancer,’ said Lil, ‘and we started going out…He said, ‘Would you get married?’ and I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ But Matthew persisted and Lil, pointing out that she and her first husband had had no children, asked Matthew if he would be willing to adopt if they married, ‘God love him – he’d have agreed to anything!’ says Lil with a laugh.”

A fresh perspective on the HS2 debate by the Liverpolitan, which argues that the government’s much-criticised rail plans, announced last week, could represent a coup for Liverpool. “The Manchester to Liverpool section of Northern Powerhouse Rail has been prioritised ahead of Manchester to Leeds. For Leeds and Bradford, that’s not good. But for Liverpool, well we should be OK with that. This is where we should have been from the beginning, because the Liverpool-Manchester axis has greater economic potential than the Manchester-Leeds one.”


Post from the past

From the moment that Mr Attlee had finished his speech, the generally quiet night streets of Liverpool burst into life.

From a copy of The Liverpool Echo, Monday 7 August 1945. This was the day that Imperial Japan surrendered in World War II, effectively bringing the war to an end. Elsewhere, Life Magazine reported people celebrating “as if joy had been rationed and saved up for the three years, eight months and seven days since Sunday, Dec. 7 1941 [the day of Pearl Harbour].”


Letters from readers

I've just subscribed. If you like reading actual news rather than click bait garbage, maybe you should do the same, Donna

This is a great example of how 'proper' local journalism can have a future, Roger

This was an interesting read (The grand dream and 200-year legacy of Liverpool’s failed suburb). Love learning about local history, Si