Culture Recovery Fund payouts include millions for private country estates

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Nearly £400 million in grants and loans has been dished out to organisations including Glastonbury Festival and the National Football Museum in the latest round investment from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund.

Announced on Friday by Oliver Dowden, the latest round of funding brings the total amount dished out by ministers to more than £1.2 billion, spanning more than 5,000 cultural and heritage sites and groups as wide ranging as the National Theatre and Sage Gateshead.

The investment was hailed by Dowden as “record-breaking”, and claimed the cash will help “our cultural gems plan for reopening”. His words were echoed by Dame Judi Dench and Stephen Fry – both of whom are involved with trusts which received government funding.

Nonetheless critics were quick to point out that, among the many good cases singled out by ministers, a number of organisations owned by extremely wealthy individuals will receive taxpayer handouts.

Among them is the Blenheim Palace Heritage Foundation in Oxfordshire, owned by the Duke of Marlborough, which will receive more than £825,000.

Grittleton House, a stately home and wedding venue in Wiltshire, has been given £148,200, while the 9th Marquess of Hertford trading as Ragley Hall Opening to the Public will receive £184,200.

The controversial inclusions were highlighted on Twitter by nature writer Miles King, who questioned whether “these very wealthy people need taxpayer money, on top of all the subsidies and tax breaks they already get”.

Other recipients of taxpayer cash include Rockingham Castle Estates, a privately-owned 4,000-acre plot. It will be given nearly £120,000, while Inglewood Manor Ltd, another privately-owned country house wedding venue, will receive £108,500.

Privately-owned Doddington Hall in the East Midlands, which has 2,000 acres of farmland and forestry to its name, was given £51,800. 

Meanwhile Glastonbury Festival will receive £900,000 as part of the Culture Recovery Fund. The festival was forced to cancel two events due to the pandemic and has sparked some criticism by announcing a global livestream this year – on the first weekend music venues can reopen.

Co-organisers Michael and Emily Eavis said they were “extremely grateful to be offered a significant award”. 

“After losing millions from the cancellation of our last two festivals, this grant will make a huge difference in helping to secure our future,” they said.

A further £6.5 million has been awarded to independent cinemas, including £138,333 for East Finchley’s Phoenix Cinema, Britain’s oldest cinema in continuous use and where Dame Judi Dench is a patron.

Dame Judi said: “Local cinemas are a vital part of our cultural lives, enthralling us with films about lives that we recognise as well as offering us stories about other cultures from around the world.

“They are places where people come together for a shared experience and have inspired many to make their careers on screen. We need to make sure that generations today and in the future have the same opportunities to enjoy and take part in the communal big screen experience.”

Grants worth almost £60 million have been awarded to help theatres, from the West End’s Criterion Theatre to the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, plan for reopening.

Museums, including the London Transport Museum and the National Football Museum in Manchester, receive a total of more than £25 million in this latest round of funding.

Brighton venue Komedia, the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds and the Camden Roundhouse are among comedy clubs and music venues receiving funding.

Charity Theatres Trust welcomed further help for theatres in England, with director Jon Morgan saying: “Theatres have had to remain closed for far longer than anyone could have anticipated, so quite rightly there are theatre organisations receiving additional grants in recognition of that.

“Before the pandemic hit, theatres played an important role in communities everywhere. More than 34 million people attend theatres in the UK each year, generating £1.28 billion in ticket revenue.

“It is crucial to the social, cultural and economic wellbeing of the country that our theatres survive this crisis and can contribute to its recovery. It is therefore important that theatres continue to receive support until they can reopen viably.”

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