The Clapham Grand is an entertainment industry icon. But as the UK enters yet another lockdown, the landmark venue's future hangs in the balance. Here's how you can help.
Earlier this year, creatives hailing from all corners of the industry gathered onstage at The Clapham Grand to shoot Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Hayward for Marie Claire’s #savethearts Christmas campaign.
The Grand, a 120-year-old refurbished Victorian music hall, served as the perfect venue for a campaign that shines a spotlight on the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the UK’s creative industries. Because, in a rare interval in The Grand’s recent history (they had a long spell of closure between 1978 and 1991) the seats of this once-bustling venue found themselves empty.
Like many live performance venues, the past year has left The Grand struggling to secure its future. ‘When this all caved in in March, I very quickly realised that as an independent venue of our size, we were in a very fragile position. Because the fixed overheads that are attached to a listed Victorian theatre are huge. If you’re not part of a group or chain, you don’t have financial support outside of anything but yourself,’ says The Grand’s manager Ally Wolf.
The venue’s landlord has declined to reduce its £50,000 monthly rent. When permitted to open between lockdowns, The Grand has only been able to operate at 75% of its capacity – reducing seat numbers from 1250 to just 370.
‘Nobody works in our industry because they believe what they do is normal’
Over the course of its history, the venue has played host to everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Oasis, the stars of Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Nick Cave.
But some of Wolf’s favourite performances have been those put together by The Grand’s in-house team. ‘The things that stand out for me are when The Clapham Grand produces its own events and brings its own team together to produce something that creates that magical entertainment moment.’
By own Wolf’s estimation, a Clapham Grand production gives work to between 100 and 150 people – both salaried staff and freelancers.
‘The next six weeks are going to be very tricky with us not having a cash flow again,’ he says. ‘We’ve been lucky enough to furlough our salaried staff, but our freelancers are back in the precarious position of universal credit and self-employment grants.’
But similar to many of the arts institutions and individuals involved in Marie Claire’s #savethearts campaign, The Clapham Grand are far from looking at the pandemic as a damning indictment of the industry’s future. Rather, it’s an opportunity to adapt.
‘I hate the term “new normal”, as a turn of phrase,’ says Wolf. ‘Nobody works in our industry because they believe what they do is normal. This isn’t the “new normal” – it’s just that life has thrown us a massive curveball. We’ve got to be progressive and move forward.’
‘We have to be the beacon of hope’
When the venue launched a ‘Save The Grand’ Crowdfunder during the first lockdown, it saw a huge outpouring of support from patrons. (At the time of writing, a total of £64,375 has been raised.) But Wolf is realistic to the limitations of Crowdfunding.
‘That era has to end. Because nobody ever came to The Clapham Grand prior to March of this year because they thought the £10 they paid to get in would help pay our landlord’s mortgage. They paid that money because it could help them to forget about the difficulty that is sometimes everyday life.
‘Moving forward, we have to get people to pay us money for what they deserve to get in return – which is entertainment. Life is crap right now – not just for people who work in entertainment and the arts, but for everyone. We need to be the beacon of positivity and hope to give people a reason to invest in us.’
How you can help the Clapham Grand
Crowdfunding has been an invaluable resource for The Clapham Grand. Their new fundraising goal is now less about surviving (though every penny helps in that regard, too) so much as it is securing The Grand’s long-term future for generations to come.
‘But the best thing you can do,’ says Wolf, ‘is go to our website, see what’s on, and buy a ticket.’
As the old adage goes, the show must go on.