Royal Albert Hall launches 'urgent appeal' for £20M in donations

8 September 2020, 15:05

The Royal Albert Hall has been empty for the past six months
The Royal Albert Hall has been empty for the past six months. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The Royal Albert Hall has called for donations totalling £20 million to help it weather the impact of Covid-19.

The Kensington venue has forgone £18 million in income, refunded more than £6.5 million in ticket sales and exhausted its reserves in the six months since closing its doors in March.

The RAH was not eligible for an emergency grant from the Government's £1.57 billion arts rescue package, and has been advised to apply for a loan which, if successful, will arrive in December.

Its plea comes as the hall's senior team give evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the viability of venues to open while adhering to social distancing rules.

Craig Hassall, chief executive of the RAH, said despite the venue being held up as a "crown jewel" by the Government, it remained in an "extremely perilous position".

The hall normally makes £6m surplus each year
The hall normally makes £6m surplus each year. Picture: PA

This is the first time that the hall has been forced to ask for public help in this way.

In a statement, the charity explained: "It is usually a self-sufficient charity, with 96 per cent of our income coming from events, and no regular funding from government.

"We normally make £6m surplus each year, all of which goes into the Grade I listed building and our Education & Outreach work.

"In an effort to survive our enforced closure, we launched Royal Albert Home, a series of digital and live streamed concerts, and have been very grateful for donations from audiences and existing donors – totalling over £2m since closure in March, including over £140k donated via our website or text donations from RAHome audiences.

"However, this is the first time we have had to ask the wider public for direct support."

The hall is in an "extremely perilous position"
The hall is in an "extremely perilous position". Picture: PA

Craig Hassall said: "Six months on from enforced closure, and circa £18 million down in lost income, we are not eligible for any of the Government's emergency grants.

"This leaves us in an extremely perilous position, with no way of replacing our lost income, apart from a Government loan which may or may not materialise.

"We raised concerns months ago about the potential for independent, unfunded organisations such as the Royal Albert Hall to miss out on Government support, and especially having been held up by Government as a 'crown jewel' that must be saved.

"With millions of pounds of essential building work called to a halt owing to Covid we had hoped to be eligible for a capital grant but have been informed that, as we are not a portfolio of nationally spread sites, we are not eligible for this scheme.

"We are fortunate to have supportive members and private donors who have given generously, but unfortunately, the Rescue Package fanfare has given many potential donors the false sense that we are being sufficiently supported elsewhere.

"The Royal Albert Hall now faces a bleak future unless it can secure not only a repayable Government loan, but also urgent donations to plug our current £20 million shortfall."

The venue explained that without help from the public, the hall could eventually end up being "mothballed" and eventually shut down.

The statement explained: "For the Hall to make its normal surplus, we need to stage almost 400 performances a year at 85 per cent capacity, so having been closed for almost six months now we have been exhausting our reserves to keep us afloat.

"We continue to explore all avenues for funding, including the potential Government loan which may or may not materialise in December, and we remain grateful to our Friends and Patrons and private donors for their continued and generous support.

"It is too early to say what potential outcomes could be should some or all of the necessary funding not materialise by the end of the year, as these will depend on a number of factors, including a review of social distancing.

"However, one consideration could include ‘mothballing’ of the Hall with performances being cancelled, and the building shut down indefinitely. 

"This would have a demonstrable impact on our community outreach programme and necessary capital works to the Grade I listed building which costs us an average of £12.7m a year to maintain."

His plea comes as the venue approaches its 150th anniversary in 2021.

Musicians are currently performing live at the RAH - but without an audience due to coronavirus restrictions - across the final two weeks of the BBC Proms.

Rebecca Kane Burton, chief executive of LW Theatres, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, are also among those addressing MPs at Tuesday's committee.