An Update From Executive Director Ray Spencer

Published: 20th July 2020

Thank you all for your kind messages and donations.  I hope you were able to tune in to some of the many digital streaming programmes we have broadcast over the last three months. I’d like to send my thanks to all the brilliant artists and creatives who freely gave their time to help keep our spirits up during these most awful times. As the Great Lockdown of 2020 begins to ease, we want to update you on The Customs House and its position on reopening.

You will be aware that cinemas, galleries, restaurants and bars are now able to open as long as they follow the Covid Secure rules laid down in the government’s guidance.  Our first planning priority is to ensure that the venue is safe for you, our staff, our brilliant volunteers and of course the performers. To do this we have taken advice from the NHS, Public Health and South Tyneside Council’s Covid Secure Officer.

As a result of their site visits and advice, we are currently sourcing the equipment and signage needed to implement the changes which will allow a COVID SECURE experience for all buildings users. The Customs House is keen to hear your views on what measures will give you the confidence to return to The Customs House. So far, we have had over 1000 responses to our questionnaire.

We are carefully analysing the contents and will, where-ever practical, act on your suggestions.

According to government guidelines, theatres are able to open, and as of last Friday we were made aware of the potential return of live performances from August. However, if we were to open under current government guidelines, our seating capacity would be reduced to less than half and audience choice of seating would be limited. I want to reassure you that all ticket monies are securely ring fenced.  As shows are rescheduled you will have the choice of attending on the new date or cancelling your ticket.  If a show is cancelled or if you are unable to attend on the new date you will have several options:

  • The face value of the ticket will be credited to your account and be available to be used on any future productions, events or meals;
  • You can still book online for many performances: this is a great way to support the theatre during this difficult time and also give yourself something to look forward to.
  • You can have a full refund to your bank account;
  • You could make a much-needed donation to our charity to help YOUR Customs House at this most perilous time.

South Tyneside Council remain our biggest ally and we thank them for their continuing support as they face huge challenges driving forward the Borough’s recovery from the effects of this pandemic.

As each week goes by, a bigger question mark is placed over this year’s pantomime Rapunzel and we will make an announcement in August based on the best available guidance for your continued safety and protection.  In the meantime, we are planning some family-friendly outdoor performances and potential comedy club outing.  More details to follow. You will have read about the Governments investment in the arts, but it is important to point out that these funds cover the whole of the UK. Some funding has already been allocated to the national institutions seen by the government as the “crown jewels”.

What remains must support galleries, heritage sites, music venues, museums and the completion of existing capital projects which were interrupted by the pandemic. In short, the jam will be spread very thinly indeed and as the Culture Secretary said, “Not all jobs will be saved’. Despite the Prime minister’s latest statements, the future remains very uncertain for the return of economically viable live performance. So sadly, and in common with many other cultural venues, The Customs House has begun formal redundancy consultations with our staff. This process can be stopped if more clarity and certainty is forthcoming from government.

The Customs House does this as a last resort to safeguard its future should current trading restrictions stretch on past the end of furlough scheme. It is the saddest of times to see our family, like so many other families be hurt by this pandemic, but I assure you we will do everything we can to minimise job losses. These are awful times, but I believe it is you, our users, our customers, our friends, who are the Custodians of The Customs House and it is you who will assure its future for generations to come.

Together we can do this.

Thank you


Ray Spencer MBE
Executive Director
The Customs House