STAFF and volunteers operating theatres and independent cinemas across the region are doing all they can to ensure they survive the potentially devastating financial impact of lockdown.

Leisure businesses are among the most affected by the coronavirus pandemic as they are among the businesses unable to operate on any capacity during this strictest phase of the lockdown.

And many working hard behind the scenes to ensure the venues survive are concerned that the long-term effects of social distancing could put audiences off returning for many months after lockdown is lifted.

Luckily many of the region’s independent venues occupy a special place in their local community’s heart which is helping them to weather the current financial storm.

Clare Allen, CEO of the Georgian Theatre Royal at Richmond explains: “We have been really blessed because we had sold a lot of tickets, but many people chose to either accept a credit note for future shows or they have donated the costs of their tickets to the theatre.”

Ms Allen said that the Georgian has also taken advantage of emergency funding and business rate reductions to help keep it afloat during the enforced closure.

Half of the eight-strong workforce has also been placed on the Government’s furlough scheme to help reduce staffing costs.

Ms Allen said: “We have accessed all the funding available to us which has massively, massively helped.

“And a combination of that and people being so generous means that we are in a good position.

“If we had to refund all the tickets we would be in a very different position.”

Although the theatre is faring well financially, Ms Allen says there is an emotional toll amid uncertainty about when audiences will return.

She said: “The theatre is a very small, magical place and it would not feel safe at all during a pandemic so we acknowledge that and we can appreciate that people may not be in a rush to come back to us soon.”

In Thirsk, the Ritz Cinema is another independent venue that has had to ensure it will survive the lockdown.

It is entirely volunteer-run and thankfully has financial reserves to see it through the closure period

Indeed, whilst it has been forced to shut, upgrade works are currently taking place ahead of its reopening.

Marc Davies of the Ritz Cinema Volunteer Group says: “Financially our position is strong at the moment as in that sensible Yorkshire way we have been careful with money and have been keeping good reserves, but obviously you don’t want to use those reserves up and be left with nothing.

“But we are in a slightly different position to other places as we are entirely volunteer-run so don’t have staff to pay.”

He added: “The concern is that it (lockdown) isn’t going to be over with quickly, but we are optimistic that we will have the cinema reopen this year.”

In Durham, the county council has temporarily closed the Gala Durham and the Empire Theatre and Cinema in Consett but is now looking into how they can reopen.

Alison Clark, the council’s head of culture, sport and tourism, said: “Maintaining a unique collective experience is key and we are working closely with artists, audience members and colleagues within the arts sector about how this can be achieved.

“We are passionate about promoting live performance and providing opportunities for theatre-makers, performers, writers and producers from the North East and beyond to showcase their talents.

“This has continued during the lockdown, with activities such as Onstage Online, a digital theatre festival delivered in partnership with Durham University.

“This will take place next month and will provide a platform for artists to shine, as well as some much-needed escapism for the public.”

In Darlington, the borough council is responsible for the Hippodrome theatre and Councillor Andy Keir, cabinet member for local services, said: “We have a really exciting future programme planned and are working hard to bring high quality theatre to Darlington but we will only reopen when safe to do so.”