London’s South Bank has no ideas and little hope

London’s South Bank has no ideas and little hope


norman lebrecht

October 20, 2020

Here’s what the shuttered arts centre is telling its subscribers today:

Hello X

I hope that this finds you and your loved ones well.

It’s now six months since we were forced to close our doors to you. And it’s still heartbreakingly sad. We are a place that exists to bring people together. Although we were excited to be able to open the Hayward Gallery over the summer, we could not have imagined that the rest of our venues would be closed to you for this long.

As you are one of our highly valued Members, I wanted to write personally to give you an update on how we are dealing with our forced closure. Your support and commitment to the Southbank Centre have been vital to us – and very much appreciated. Thank you for your loyalty and patience.

We’ve had a very difficult summer. In order to manage the implications of our continuing closure and the loss of £25m of our expected income (half our annual expenditure), we had to go through a redundancy and restructure process as a result of which we’ve sadly lost a large number of our amazing colleagues. It’s been a traumatic time for everyone involved and we understand how difficult it is for those who are leaving us.

We know that cultural organisations across the globe will continue to have a turbulent time over the next 12 – 18 months. Social distancing means that it’s very difficult to open our doors to visitors without incurring significant financial losses. This is due to the fact that the much reduced ticket income we can generate would not sufficiently cover our operational costs including enhanced safety measures, cleaning, hosting and so on.

As with many of our fellow arts organisations, we await a decision in the next few weeks as to whether we will receive support (in the form of repayable finance) from the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund. The measures we’ve taken since our closure mean that the Southbank Centre is now in a more financially resilient and adaptable position and any support we do receive will help us to face any ongoing and future challenges with more confidence.

We eagerly anticipate the day when social distancing measures are lifted and we can resume our noisy, bustling place at London’s heart. In the meantime, I’m very glad to be able to write to you with news of some fantastic cultural events taking place once again here on the Southbank Centre site and online.

This month, music has been heard again in the Royal Festival Hall for the first time since March, with both the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chineke! playing recorded events on our stage – and both to critical acclaim. BBC Radio 3 is also in residence at the Southbank Centre from today (19 October) for 10 days and will live broadcast many of our music and spoken word events as part of our Inside Out autumn programme, which features over 40 events, including 30 classical music concerts and 16 pieces of music from composers of colour.

Our renowned literature programme has re-ignited the business of discussing the urgent issues of the day with a keynote and Q&A in the Royal Festival Hall from Angela Davis and an in-depth conversation with Claudia Rankine. Future talks are scheduled with Arundhati Roy, Alicia Garza, Dawn French and John Cleese. And the National Poetry Library has published a wonderful book: Instagram Poetry for Every Day.

Our riverside site continues to offer you the chance to enjoy inspirational outdoor art and poetry: Everyday Heroes is an exhibition that celebrates key workers, while Phenomenal Women is an exhibition of portraits by Bill Knight, commissioned by Dr Nicola Rollock, that highlights the achievements and careers of Black female professors. Among the Trees (inside the Hayward Gallery) remains open until 31 October and as a Member you can see it for free (booking essential).

We can’t wait to welcome you back to the Southbank Centre as soon as possible. Nothing is more important to us than our most fundamental commitment: to bring great and unforgettable experiences of art to a wide and diverse public.

Until then, I thank you again for being a Member of the Southbank Centre. In doing this, you are supporting us at the time when we need it most.

With best wishes,

Elaine Bedell
Chief Executive





  • Firing Back says:

    ‘We’ve had a very difficult summer. In order to manage the implications of our continuing closure and the loss of £25m of our expected income (half our annual expenditure)…’


    ‘The measures we’ve taken since our closure mean that the Southbank Centre is now in a more financially resilient and adaptable position ‘


    A team probably worked on that for weeks.

    And to tack on ‘and 16 pieces of music from composers of colour’, almost as an afterthought, is just so patronising.

    Ms Bedell is clearly clueless.

    • CORRECT! says:

      Following these endless SJW protocols and flinging around buzzwords is reason enough people are repelled by anything the arts is selling. ‘Selling’ being the operative CAPITALIST action Libs are engaging in by expecting payment for anything without realizing it. HaHa..

      Oh well, the pandemic shutdowns have yielded some positive results at least. Less places like this using energy resources and creating conflict. Glad of it! So sick of these entitled types with their endless need for government funding which needs to go to only individuals at this time.

    • marcus says:

      Ticks the woke box though-remember that manifesto from the BAME staff a few months ago?

    • PaulD says:

      Don’t forget paying for Angela Davis, whose guns were used in the murder of a California judge, to speak there.

    • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

      And the rather patronising capitalisation “careers of Black female professors”.

  • Una says:

    A very sad state of affairs. I have an affection for the place as most of my childhood was spent going there for schools concerts, later then to hear first class musicians, even Barenboim and his Beethoven sonatas in 2007 or 2008, and then sung in there myself as a soloist in all three halls in oratorio and a recital. There was no Cadogan, Barbican, or King’s Place. So much hall-bashing not only in London but other British cities. It’s the quality of the concerts and the artistry of the singers and musicians that matter in the end. Until Social Distancing or Physical Distancing – to be more accurate – is abolished, it will never be a happy experience for many of us going to anything gagged up, often on our own before Tier 3 arrives after Manchester and Liverpool.

  • violin accordion says:

    RIP Spencer Davis

  • Anon says:

    Here’s an alternative headline for this piece. Rather fairer than the one you chose.

    “SBC stabilises its finances and supports artists in conjunction with BBC.”

    • Will says:

      Absolutely! Running an arts organisation at the moment is a very very tough gig. The comments on this article are almost as depressing as the situation itself.