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Manchester's theatres could be left out in the cold
Energy crisis “catastrophe” as venues call for government support. Plus, the rest of your weekly briefing
Dear Millers — welcome to this week’s briefing. As Manchester’s theatres try and get back on their feet after the pandemic, another crisis looms. Last week it was reported that iconic theatre the Lowry faces costs of around £1m as energy prices rise. We take a look at whether it will be another bleak winter for venues struggling to cover costs.
As usual, we have a great list of things to do over the week, including a night of Ethiopian jazz, Sufi chanting at the Whitworth, and celebrations for Ukrainian Independence Day.
🎧 Sunday podcast: Joshi and Darryl sat down with Manchester Pride’s CEO Mark Fletcher. The festival is bruised after it faced “intense criticism”, including questions over its commitment to charity. So, what did Mark Fletcher have to say to the critics? You can listen here on your favourite streaming platform or on Spotify below.
At the weekend, we published a beautiful extract from the book Dandelions, which is due to be published in September. It’s by Thea Lenarduzzi, who traced four generations of her family as they migrated between Italy and England. Introducing the extract, she wrote warmly of her grandmother Dirce, who features in the book and helped Lenarduzzi write it. Dirce moved to Manchester in the 1950s and still talks in English with her adopted Mancunian accent.
She gave me the battered exercise book, containing her account of a life “real and without fiction”, a few summers ago. “Do what you want with it.” “It”: her memories and her memory. Inside she writes of “my Manchester”, “mia Manchester”, a land of contrasts: the excitement of arriving as a child cut short by the premature loss of her beloved father; the pleasure of introducing her youngest son (my dad) to his first giraffe at the Bellevue; the agony of losing the baby that would have been his younger brother; and the elation of adopting a baby daughter. When she speaks English she does so with the accent in which she first learnt how. “Good mornin’”, “y’arigh’?”, “int’it”.
This week, Mill members will be getting a piece about what happened at the Tory leadership hustings in Manchester, plus a Thursday edition with great writing and useful recommendations. If you’d like to get those stories in your inbox, hit that pink button below.
🏠 Some housekeeping: there will be no briefing next week as it’s the Bank Holiday and the Mill team will be taking a short break.
This week’s weather 🌦
Our forecast comes from local weather man Martin Miles, who says we can expect some unsettled weather but towards the end of the week there will be some “pleasant late summer weather to enjoy.”
Tuesday 🌦 Warm and muggy with hazy sunshine. Odd shower PM. Max 23°c.
Wednesday 🌧 Damp with showery periods of rain. Cooler, but still muggy. Max 20°c.
Thursday 🌤 Pleasant with sunny intervals, light winds and mostly dry conditions. Max 21°c.
Friday 🌦 Pleasant with sunny intervals with the risk of a few showers later in the day. Max 21°c.
Weekend 🌦 There should be some warm sunny spells but also a risk of showers. Average temperatures.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook. Daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: Could Manchester’s theatres face another bleak winter?
Topline: Surging energy costs have been described as a “catastrophe” for theatres trying to recover from the pandemic. Last week, the Lowry revealed that its annual energy costs would increase to £1m — a bill “substantially higher” than its Arts Council grant.
Context: This October, energy prices for UK households are expected to increase by around 80%. Bloomberg reports that average bills will rise to around £3,600 a year, up from £1,971, as regulator Ofgem lifts the limit on how much suppliers can charge.
Earlier this year the government announced a support package to help households, including a £200 discount on energy bills and a £150 non-repayable council tax rebate for bands A-D in England.
But it’s not just households that are feeling the pressure — across the UK, theatres are warning they could face closures without government support.
Speaking to the Guardian, the Lowry’s chief executive Julia Fawcett said that they were predicting that the theatre’s electricity bill would triple.
The Lowry’s annual Arts Council grant is £860,000 — Fawcett said the forecasted energy costs posed “a major challenge”.
Their annual building-related costs total £1.9m.
In the last financial year the Lowry made a £659,000 loss.
This was echoed by children’s arts organisation Z-arts in Hulme, which is expecting its energy bill to rise from £24,142 (2019/20) to £122,000 (2022/23).
Talking to The Stage, Z-arts artistic director Liz Neill said:
Z-arts is in a fortunate position this year, as we have a reasonable level of reserves, but we certainly can’t sustain this level of increase beyond one year.
During the pandemic, the Cultural Recovery Fund alleviated some of these financial pressures for many theatres, including the Lowry, which received a “vital lifeline” of £3m from the fund. But now many in the industry are calling for further help with the energy crisis.
As we highlighted in our piece about the layoffs at the Royal Exchange Theatre earlier this year, during the pandemic theatres had little clarity from the government about when they could reopen. Now they also left uncertain about what assistance — if any — will be available this winter.
In response to calls for a "charitable support package” from the artistic director of Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds, a government spokesperson told the BBC:
No national government can control the global factors pushing up the price of energy, but we will continue to support businesses in navigating the months ahead.
This includes doubling our support for high energy usage businesses, cutting taxes for hundreds of thousands of businesses and slashing fuel duty.
Bottom line: Declining audience numbers, steep drops in revenue and low cash flow are all factors which have made bouncing back a challenge for Manchester’s theatres. As Fawcett puts it, the cultural sector is in a “critical situation” as venues try and rebuild after the pandemic.
The government is being quite vocal about how it is offering support for households, but no consideration is being given to the charitable and voluntary sector which run public buildings.
Home of the week
This beautiful 2-bedroom penthouse in the city centre boasts a 24/7 concierge service, huge windows and a private south-facing balcony. It’s on the market for £500,000.
Your Mill news briefing
Tory MPs across Greater Manchester voted to let utility companies dump sewage into their area's rivers. They voted to remove a section of an amendment that would have required utility companies to “take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows” and to “demonstrate improvements in the sewerage systems”. Last year, instances of “sewage spills” in places like Leigh and Bolton North East — both conservative constituencies — were up, at 1,239 and 1,144 respectively according to data aggregator Top of the Poops (yes, we know). All of GM's Labour MP's voted against the removal of the section, which has been described as "taking the teeth" out of the amendment. You can see how your MP voted here.
A 15-metre tall 6G mast has been installed without consultation in Stockport, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service. The mast, owned by telecommunications firm IX Wireless, appeared on a residential street in Cheadle. The council — who, somehow, were also caught by surprise by the mast — has written to the company asking for more details on the purpose of the structure. Residents are concerned both by the mast's appearance and the radiation it might emit. A notice at the bottom of the mast announces, in stunning corp-speak, that residents may object to the "fibre pole" if "the enjoyment of that neighbouring land is capable of being prejudiced by the apparatus" or "any interest in the land is capable of being compromised".
A best-selling author from Bolton has been dropped by his publisher after being misogynistic on an Instagram livestream. John Clark, also known as the Meal Prep King, wrote a series of books on weight-loss and dieting, published by Penguin. After he called women "scruffy c***s" and ridiculed women's rights, the publisher announced they wouldn't be working with him again.
The cousin of Tyson Fury, the heavyweight boxing champion, died after being stabbed in Altrincham over the weekend. Rico Burton, 31, was stabbed in the neck in Goose Green, a popular night time spot. Two men have been arrested in connection with the incident.
Our favourite reads
‘I was young and stupid – now I have to watch my mouth’ — The Telegraph
We enjoyed this interview with Aitch, the British rapper who was recently caught up in a backlash after an advert promoting his debut album was painted over the iconic mural of Ian Curtis. Here, he tells Neil McCormick about his upbringing. “Aitch was raised in the suburb of Moston, where his father was a pipe fitter and mechanical engineer, and his mother was chief carer for his decade-younger sister, who has Down’s syndrome.” He was also candid about how he tried (and failed) to get his musical hero Liam Gallagher to collaborate on a song.
The Scourge of Northwesternism — The Liverpolitan
This piece examines Liverpool’s “fallen place in the world” and compares its fortunes to its neighbour, Manchester. It asks why Liverpool hasn’t reached the same sprawling levels of urban growth, and why Steve Rotherham is not called ‘The King of the North’. “Manchester nakedly pursues its own interests,” it says. “There’s nothing wrong with that — I’m not passing moral judgement but the idea that our two cities, separated by a mere 32.9 miles are not in competition with each other is a supreme act of gaslighting.”
Does Manchester need the Tories? — UnHerd
“The city lacks meaningful political dissent: Manchester is a place where voters have handed Labour a virtual dictatorship,” argues Joshi as the Tory leadership race continues. We thought this was an interesting piece about the nature of political debate in Manchester, where 91 of the city’s 96 councillors are Labour. When Andy Burnham was urged by council leaders to be more critical of the government during key moments — such as an “underwhelming” bus package — they were left disappointmented. As one woman who was interviewed for this piece put it, “it isn’t healthy to have this monopoly.”
Wigan’s Road to ‘Brexit’ — The New York Times
This 2016 article looks at why residents in Wigan voted to leave the EU, despite being historic Labour Party supporters. Andy Higgins went to meet some of the people who voted for Brexit, and understand the forces that influenced their decision. “Their votes were stark evidence of how working-class resentments, driven by feelings of being ignored and left unmoored in a rapidly changing world,” he writes.
Our to do list
🎶 Janek Gwizdala Trio is performing at the Stoller Hall. Their music is a blend of improvisation and cinematic soundscapes, with influences of jazz. Starts 7.30pm. Book here.
💐 It’s Ukrainian Independence Day and to celebrate, there will be some fun family activities to do the Ukrainian Centre in Cheetham Hill. It’s a free event. Starts 12.30. Info here.
🖼 The Whitworth is showing The Circle and The Square, an audio-visual installation by artist Suzanne Lacy who worked alongside residents in Pendle, to create work inside Brierfield Mill. “Deeply moving”, it features Sufi chanters, former mill workers and a 500-person banquet. Info here.
🎶 Ethiopian jazz singer Mulatu Astatke will be perfoming at Band on the Wall on Friday. He appeared as a special guest alongside Duke Ellington on a tour in Ethiopia in 1973. Starts 7.30pm. Book here.
🌈 It’s Manchester Pride and there will be plenty of activities everyone can get involved in, including a big Saturday party and the poignant Candlelight Vigil to remember those lost to HIV/AIDS. Book here.
🍣 Doki Doki, the Manchester Japanese Festival celebrates traditional and modern Japanese culture. It will showcase Japanese folk music, artist talks and martial arts displays. Proceeds will go towards Aid for Japan. Starts 11am. Info here.