Art gallery and heritage museum thrown lifeline to survive Covid storm

Sally Shaw is the director at Firstsite Gallery in Colchester. They have been given an emergency gra

Sally Shaw is the director at Firstsite Gallery in Colchester. They have been given an emergency grant of �250,000 by the Arts Council to allow them to re-open Photo: Sue Anderson - Credit: Su Anderson

Two East Anglian arts and heritage centres have been thrown a lifeline by the Arts Council to see them through the current Covid-19 crisis.

The Empress of Britain is a steam traction engine held at the Museum of East Anglian Life. It was us

The Empress of Britain is a steam traction engine held at the Museum of East Anglian Life. It was used for carting timber and stone in the early 20th century. The Museum was given an emergency grant to allow it to reopen following lockdown - Credit: Museum of East Anglian Life

Colchester art gallery and exhibition centre Firstsite has been awarded £250,000 as part of a short-term emergency fund that was specifically designed to help organisations needing financial support to stay afloat until the end of September, because of the impact of Covid-19.

The Museum of East Anglian Life, based just outside Stowmarket, was awarded £88,950 as part of the same scheme. These awards were part of a £33million investment in its regularly funded National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) across England.

Jenny Cousins, director of the Museum of East Anglian Life, said: “We are thrilled – and relieved – to have received this support from ACE – it’s extremely welcome in these challenging times.

“Like many other culture and tourism businesses, we’ve missed the key Easter-summer season and our programme of events and weddings have had to be cancelled. ACE’s funding will help ensure that we can continue to thrive and serve the community into the future. We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors back when the museum reopens on Thursday July 16 and have lots of new things for people to see.”

Abbot's Hall at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket

Abbot's Hall at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket Picture: RACHEL EDGE - Credit: RACHEL EDGE

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The Museum of East Anglian Life occupies a 75-acre site in Stowmarket. Cousins adds: “We created a whole new ‘Grow’ area which seeks to connect people with where their food comes from. It was originally due to open in April, and includes a new orchard, animal areas, crops and an activity barn with displays. There’s lots of outdoor space for people to enjoy. It’ll be great to have visitors back.”

Meanwhile, at Firstsite, director Sally Shaw said that this emergency funding will allow it to reopen. “We are extremely pleased to have been awarded £250,000 of emergency funding from Arts Council England,” she said.

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“We’d like to say a huge thank you to them for their support and confidence in our plans, and we’d also like to thank all our donors and funders who have supported us through this incredibly difficult time of lockdown, and the Firstsite team for their amazing hard work and collaboration.

“This funding will help us realise our plans for reopening Firstsite as soon as we possibly can, and deliver an exciting programme of exhibitions, events and activities, both in our fantastic building and online.

Firstsite, Colchester, Essex.

Firstsite, Colchester, Essex. - Credit: Richard Bryant/

“In a recent audience survey we asked our visitors what they wanted from us in the future and our programme is designed to respond to what they said – we will be focusing on supporting our community in creative ways to provide uplifting and enriching experiences and support well-being, giving us all the tools we need to face this ‘new normal’ and the challenges it brings.”

The awards offered to NPOs are part of the Arts Council’s overall £160 million Emergency Response Package, through which they have already awarded £69million to nearly 10,000 individuals and independent organisations.

This Emergency Response Package, which was launched in March, was made available with thanks to National Lottery players and government.

To further support the independent sector, the Arts Council recently announced the reopening of National Lottery Project Grants this July, with a budget of £59.8 million.

NPOs are a key part of England’s cultural ecology, producing work for the public to enjoy, employing and commissioning thousands of people and supporting many small companies through supply chains.

£90million was made available in March for NPOs that required additional funding to sustain operations and meet basic costs over the summer.

Since launching this Emergency Response Package, the government announced further support – including the Job Retention Scheme – which helped lift some of the pressure and delayed the cliff edge of financial collapse for most organisations to the autumn, reducing the immediate demand on Arts Council funds.

The Arts Council will use the remaining budget from this emergency programme to complement the Government’s recently announced £1.57 billion rescue package and help ensure as much of the nation’s vital cultural sector survives as possible.

Hedley Swain, area director, South East, Arts Council England, said: “Our priority has always been to support as many individuals and organisations as we can through this difficult time – something we have only been able to do thanks to National Lottery players and DCMS. Today’s funding will provide essential financial relief for National Portfolio Organisations from across the East and South East.

“But we know that we are all still facing huge challenges. We’ll use our remaining available funds, alongside those announced by government, to support our sector in the coming months.”

Sir Nicholas Serota, chairman, Arts Council England, said: “Culture, creativity and the arts are a fundamental part of our country’s identity – they bring joy, fulfilment and shared experience and help boost people’s health and wellbeing.

“Our National Portfolio Organisations play a crucial role in providing opportunities for people across England to enjoy culture, and this funding will ensure that they are able to continue their work through the summer.

“The Emergency Response Fund has helped us to support thousands of artists and organisations through the immediate impact of the coronavirus pandemic and our new £1.57 billion support package will help safeguard the future of this important sector.”

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