Preston live music venue hopes hardship fund will help it survive the pandemic

The operator of a live music venue in Preston says she can finally sleep at night after the government announced a £1.5bn package to support the arts and culture sectors during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sue Culshaw, who manages The Ferret on Fylde Road, hopes that the scheme will help keep the club afloat after it was forced to fall silent at the start of the lockdown back in March.

There is currently no date for when live music performances will be allowed to restart in the UK, with the safe capacity of venues being the biggest concern.

As the Lancashire Post revealed last month, the implementation of two-metre social distancing in The Ferret would reduce its capacity from almost 200 to just three. The devastating results emerged from a consultation on draft government guidelines for the sector, in which the vast majority of venues said that they would be unable to reopen under any such restrictions.

Sue Culshaw is no clearer about when her business might reopen - but is hoping she has the cash to tide her over until it does

Sue says that she couldn’t be more grateful for the financial lifeline thrown to the industry, but is awaiting details of how the cash will be distributed before concluding whether it has really struck the right note.

“It’ll be no good if somewhere like the Royal Opera House gets tens of millions and a place like The Ferret gets £500 – so I just hope that it is shared out fairly.

“The total pot is a mixture of grants and loans and a lot of smaller venues were already operating near the edge before coronavirus, so they won’t be in a position to take on debt as well,” Sue said.

Just under a quarter of the money being made available in England will be in the form of loans and the application process to access the overall fund is expected to be published later this week.

The Ferret has around a dozen gigs provisionally pencilled in for the autumn and winter months – some of which were postponed from the summer. However, Sue believes that it is unlikely that the compact venue will be hosting live music this side of Christmas.

“We won’t cancel anything that can’t go ahead as planned – we’ll always try to reschedule events so that tickets remain valid.

“Even if something fantastic suddenly happened and we were able to reopen in October, it wouldn’t necessarily be that simple. There would probably be a scramble to book more gigs then, but not all bands would be ready to perform at such short notice,” Sue explained.

The Music Venue Trust (MVT), a group made up of over 800 grassroots outlets, has been leading the call to help save clubs like The Ferret – and now wants to see a plan to reopen every venue safely.

Sue paid tribute to the MVT – and also everybody locally who had supported her business in its efforts to raise both funds and its profile.

“Now we just need them all to come back through the doors when it is safe for us to reopen,” she added.