What’s next? How HOME is planning to support Manchester’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic

HOME’s Director and CEO Dave Moutrey talks about how we are planning to support Manchester’s economic, social and cultural recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in 2021.

Yesterday morning’s announcement that Manchester would remain in Tier 3 was disappointing, if not surprising. With colleagues across the city, we were watching the metrics on which the tiers are assessed improve drastically, with hope more than expectation. But we have now prepared ourselves that we won’t open again in 2020.

Our earliest date for reopening is 6 Jan 2021 – and should we be able to open, we’ll be back with the same COVID-safe welcome and vibrant programme as before.

We’ve been closed for 213 days so far this year, and when we have been open, our capacity has been hugely limited by social distancing. But yesterday’s blow was tempered by the news earlier this week that vaccinations have begun. With it came the optimism that by Spring there is a chance that these necessary restrictions could begin to make way for a period of recovery.

Its with this spirit of optimism that I decided to write this: how HOME is ready, willing and able to play its part in this recovery.

A Safe Environment

HOME was amongst the first arts venues in the country to offer a full programme of theatre, visual art and cinema. Through consultation with audiences and stakeholders, we ensured measures exceeded the basic safety guidance – this included ensuring 2 metre distancing in theatres and cinemas, and visible round-the-clock cleaning. The joy on the faces of customers upon our reopening in early September was extraordinary – with regular audience surveys saying it was the most COVID-safe environment they had been in. Despite tens of thousands of visitors, we have not had one case of coronavirus linked to HOME.

Social distancing will remain necessary for the immediate future: and we believe we’re amongst the safest environments out there once we move out of Tier 3.

Economic Recovery

HOME’s choice to reopen with social distancing was never financially motivated – especially when we were prioritising safety above maximising capacity. Our commitment to reopening was about providing people with something familiar, some much needed entertainment, and a programme of art that reflects the world as it is today. For the brief window that we were able to open, there was a sense from across the city that it signalled a return to normality. Our recent independent economic impact study showed HOME contributes £26m to the local economy. Collectively across arts organisation in the city, this figure is hundreds of millions.

We believe arts venues like ours can be on the frontline of this economic recovery post-COVID – and support our partners in the night-time economy to bring people back to the city centre.

Providing Positive Health Outcomes

Research by Simetrica and the DCMS identified engagement with the arts as reducing GP visits and the use of mental health services. HOME’s economic impact report calculates that the organisation generated a cost saving of £1 million for the NHS last year. We are working with the NHS to prove the positive health outcomes linked to arts and culture cannot be ignored, and (as Grayson Perry said) venues act as “gymnasiums for the soul”.

The impact of the crisis on the mental health of our nation will be extraordinary and long-lasting: we want to be part of that solution.

Employment for the Cultural Sector

Culture, leisure and supporting infrastructure accounts for 44% of employment in the night-time economy in our city, and much of that is freelancers. We have done as much as we can to support freelancers during this extraordinary period, including our new digital commissions Homemakers. But in the long run, we need to provide paid work to ensure the sector doesn’t haemorrhage talent, losing a generation of inspired creative talent, and subsequently destroying the cultural recovery of the region.

These opportunities are limited when our doors are shut, and we want to get the artistic engine of HOME running at full capacity soon.

HOME’s civic duty is to the city region and its people – and their health and wellbeing is more important than anything. We accept the requirement to remain closed – but we do ask that the government rethink their approach to keeping arts venues like ours shut, and consider the benefits an active cultural infrastructure can bring. Yesterday Manchester published its roadmap to COVID recovery – which has culture at the heart of it. The dedicated and wonderful team that I work with at HOME remain optimistic that in early 2020, we’ll have the chance to reopen our doors answer this call.