Arts & Heritage Alliance of Milton Keynes

Registered Charity: 1158874 / @AHA_MK



At the AHA-MK Members Meeting on 22nd April 2020 it was agreed that members would form a collective response to Covid-19. In May 2020 AHA-MK distributed a short survey via email to its members with the following three questions:

  1. What challenges are you or your organisation facing during Covid-19?
  • How are you coping with these challenges?
  • What are your post-lockdown plans?

There were 19 responses from members, with most replying in bullet-point form. This report summarises these responses.


This report can be used as a record that the impact Covid-19 has had on the Milton Keynes Arts and Heritage Sector. It is evidence that highlights areas of need which have emerged for the sector during the Covid-19 Lockdown. It illustrates coping mechanisms that the sector has adopted, and expresses the necessity for continued support and training if the sector is to survive post-lockdown. AHA-MK members will have access to this report and can use the information to support proposals and funding applications. AHA-MK will share this report with organisations such as Arts Council England, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England, and Milton Keynes Council.


Organisations have many similar concerns, although the nature of the organisation (venue-based/non-venue-based etc.) means that the concerns vary accordingly. Three main themes emerged from the answers provided: Financial; Programme Delivery; Staff and User Support. The answers have been grouped according to these themes. Similar responses have been mentioned here just once.

Question 1.

What challenges are you or your organisation facing during Covid-19?

FINANCIAL   Increased expenditure through rent rebates Adapting programmes to digital platforms has incurred extra expense and resource Planned and unplanned arrears have increased Revenue has halted/dropped significantly because activity at the venue has slowed/stoppedEnsuring reserves last as long as possible Long term sustainability plans lie dormantNot being eligible for financial helpFunding bodies closing grant schemes for future projects impacting ability to fundraise for the next two years Securing funding for small arts organisations post-Covid due to long term economic downturnWorried about increased competition for funding for those who have capacityIncreasing cash flow for established artists in order to pay rent  
PROGRAMME DELIVERY   Events/workshops/festivals cancelled or postponed indefinitely Many up and coming artists in MK may discontinue with their practices as it isn’t a viable choice, although it may lead to artistic activity that operates largely outside of usual structures. Theatres being the last place to openIndependent music venues are under threat of closureInformal arts spaces such as church and village halls have closed and prevent many community arts groups from meeting and taking part  
STAFF AND USER SUPPORT   Technical difficulties when delivering general services from homeBalancing work and family life Reduced capacity to operate with furloughed staff, even though tasks such as fund-raising, planning and development, and site management remain necessaryManaging expectations/worries of staff and volunteers and providing the extra pastoral care that is neededMental health issues for arts workers increased Maintaining a team environment during lockdown with social distancing rulesCourse users who are in vulnerable groups will be reluctant to return to the site when it has re-openedUnderstanding when and how it is possible to re-open responsiblySpending a lot of time researching guidelines Continued nervousness from the public around gatherings post-lockdownUncertainty about relaxation of lockdown parametersMaintaining connections in a new-found realityFreelance nature of the work presents a significant challenge when retaining and/or re-planning contracts.Difficult to remain ambitious    

Question 2.   

How are you coping with these challenges?

FINANCIAL   Applied for emergency funds from bodies like the Arts Council England and Historic EnglandApplied for rent holidays to rent authorities  Identifying other possible sources of funding for sustainability Allowed financial flexibility for those renting studiosCreating online ‘members’ areas’ which will require a fee to enter  
PROGRAMME DELIVERY   Cancelled major events and programmes because possible dates for gatherings uncertain Increased web and social media presence to remain in the public eye as much as possible Embedding digital into long-term strategies and engaging in  major digital projects Looked to other sectors (such as estate agents and restaurants) for guidance about responsible behaviour with the public Reaching out to new local, regional and national partners, venues, organisations, collaborators and artists Conducting workshops/artist-designed resources and research via conferencing platformsRe-imagining digital possibilities for exhibitions and live performance Documenting, archiving and evidencing work Using the lockdown and Covid-19 as themes to base work on  
STAFF AND USER SUPPORT   Introduced ‘safe-access’ ground-rules for anyone using the site Continuing to advertise studio spaces so potential occupants can be added to ‘waiting list’All board and management meetings conducted virtually Researching in order to reflect and plan Staying cheerful and optimistic and taking the ‘kind’ approachDaily team check-ins and regular video conferencingWorking closely with the board about strategic decisions Making staff who are still working and those who are furloughed a priorityKeeping in regular touch with volunteers  Developing plans to increase inclusion and diversity  


What are your post-lockdown plans?

FINANCIAL Aligning business plans that are resilient in a post-lockdown worldBudgeting for additional costs for cleaning, signage, IT and AV equipment, adaptation of offices and learning spaces Opening the venues as soon as possible Filling studio spaces as soon as possible Developing partnership schemes with potential corporate sponsors such as a prospectus of hire of local art works for local businesses; employee volunteering schemes; workplace workshops; financial support for events and projectsKeep learning to survive and strengthenFinding new ways to raise funds  
PROGRAMME DELIVERY Continuing with plans to make the venue more accessible to the public Building online content in anticipation of continued social distancing and the possibility of another lockdownDelivering one or two small projects dependent on further discussion with partnersContinuing with planned programmes as much as possibleTouring when possibleRemaining flexible in organisation and delivery Make, make, make! Get into the studio and explore creating under new circumstances Keep connectingCreate new community workWork together (Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of doing this)
STAFF AND USER SUPPORT Prepare courses to allow for fewer participants over longer classesPrepare to attend the site in teams/shiftsCreating responsible social distancing and health and hygiene measures and risk assessments Working on organisational capacity for board composition, and development and fundraising skills Rebooking cancelled tickets/tours and changing the way tickets/tours are booked Understanding and responding to customer needs in the post-lockdown world  



  1. Loss of revenue means that organisations need continued support from funders and local and national government
  2. All organisations must be eligible for financial help
  3. Funding bodies must remain flexible and redirect funds towards work that can be made and delivered responsibly during/post-lockdown
  4. The sector must continue to work together to provide support and where possible prevent unhelpful competitiveness
  5. Protection (such as rent holidays, grants for materials) is needed for established artists
  6. Emerging artists must be helped and nurtured in order to keep the sector fresh and accessible
  7. It is wise for the sector to prepare business plans and budgets that align with continued lockdown and a post-lockdown world

Programme Delivery:

  1. Training for the sector in digital will be helpful
  2. Any digital and online innovation should be nurtured and promoted
  3. Theatre companies, theatres and music venues need support with new measures for socially distanced performances.
  4. Whenever possible the sector should explore making in new circumstances and report the limitations and possibilities. It would be useful to share good practice around digital innovation so people can learn new ways forward

Staff and User Support:

  1. Extra pastoral care is needed for the sector during and post-lockdown
  2. Guidance and training in how to maintain a team environment under new conditions would be helpful
  3. Training in managing social distancing measures and health and hygiene with vulnerable users is important
  4. Training in creating new audience development strategies is vital
  5. Robust measures to retain personnel, volunteers and resident creatives are paramount
  6. It would be useful for the sector to create a shared reference list of customer needs during and post-lockdown


On the whole, organisations in Milton Keynes have responded to Covid-19 positively and proactively, although worries around finances, programme delivery, and retention of staff, freelance artists and practioners, audiences, and volunteers are real for everyone. Theatres and live music venues remain hugely at risk, and guidance for social distancing measures at these organisations is unclear. Flexible financial support from government and other funders remains extremely important.

It is clear that Covid-19 has pushed digital delivery to the forefront of the sector’s agenda. Linking digital delivery to the impact reduced mobility has on the environment can become a way towards sustainability. The sector must be strategic in its plans to move forward in a post-Covid world, and work together in order to support the local cultural ecology. This includes building new audiences by developing inclusion and diversity policies and connecting with wider local and regional networks to foster joined-up thinking.