National Poetry Library mothballed until 2021 as Southbank Centre staff protest at cuts

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The troubled National Poetry Library at London’s Southbank Centre is not due to reopen until at least April 2021, according to a protest letter from staff angered by cuts being imposed across the whole of the Southbank Centre.

The National Poetry Library is on the fifth floor of the Royal Festival Hall, which also stages the annual Forward prize awards and TS Eliot prize readings, and is part of the Southbank Centre that hosts many other literature events, including poetry.  

THE NPL has been closed since March due to the pandemic. But while the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh has announced plans to reopen with a restricted service later this month, threatened staff at the Southbank Centre have warned that it plans to make nearly 70% of its workforce redundant.

The warning comes in a protest letter and petition titled Southbank SOS: “Southbank Centre is Europe’s largest arts centre, the recipient of the second largest grant of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio of regularly-funded organisations and a vital part of the UK’s cultural landscape, with a 13-acre site in the centre of London. We believe that we should be industry-leading in our response to the pandemic and in our treatment of staff. Instead, senior management are planning to close down or ‘mothball’ the site until at least April 2021 (with the exception of Hayward Gallery, which provisionally reopens to the public on Saturday 1 August for a maximum of three months).

“At a time when other cultural organisations are fighting to reopen, Southbank Centre is intent on remaining closed. While we acknowledge that indoor music events are virtually impossible to run while social distancing rules remain in place, no creative solutions have been proposed to fill that vacuum. And if the Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall remain closed, Londoners lose a vital free space that belongs to them, as well as access to the National Poetry Library.”

It adds: “When Southbank Centre reopens in 2021 it will operate with an entirely new operating structure, based, according to senior management, on a ‘start-up’. Staff have been told that the centre’s programme of contemporary art exhibitions, classical and contemporary music and literature events will be allocated just 10% of capacity across its venues with 90% reserved for rental. This decision completely undermines the integrity of these respected cultural venues and will cause lasting damage to the ability of the Southbank Centre to provide for its audiences and fulfil the terms of its grant from Arts Council England (ACE). There has been no indication of how this business model could be reversed in future.”

The National Poetry Library was already facing problems before the pandemic. Last autumn it was forced to suspend the introduction of a new membership scheme after protests from poets. The new scheme had been intended to generate funds for the cash-strapped library.

 

 

◄ Fledge: Jonathan Humble, Maytree Press

Fighting for breath, bats, and a tomato sandwich: poet's near-death experience on a Covid-19 ward ►

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