GRANTS in excess of £300,000 to arts and heritage attractions in Richmondshire to help them survive the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Wensleydale Railway is to receive a £90,000 heritage grant which will help secure its future.

The Swaledale Festival and the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond also receive grants of more than £50,000 each.

MP for Richmond (York) Rishi Sunak has welcomed the news.

He said: “I am delighted that the significant contribution these three attractions make to the local economy have been recognised through these substantial grants. The railway, festival and theatre are major draws for visitors to our area and it is important that they are is helped through the current crisis.”

The Georgian Theatre Royal has been awarded £52,960 as part of the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to help arts organisations face the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and to ensure they have a sustainable future.

Richmond’s historic theatre is one of 1,385 arts and cultural organisations – including theatres and theatre companies, galleries, museums and arts centres – across the country receiving urgently needed support.

Like many performing arts venues, The Georgian Theatre has been closed for live performances since March of this year with plans to remain ‘dark’ until at least Spring 2021. The rescue grant will support the theatre’s overheads, which would normally be covered by income from ticket sales and other activities.

The funding will also enable the theatre to continue to provide its guided heritage tours during the winter months. Normally, the tour season ends in October but the additional money means that tours will continue Monday to Friday throughout November, December and January. There are also plans to run special events such as festive tours and evening candlelit tours, in addition to the regular scheduled tours taking place on the hour between 10am and 4pm.

Those visiting the theatre in the next few months will also be able to view the progress of the auditorium development project designed to provide more comfortable seating as well as improved views of the stage. This ambitious capital works project has been made possible thanks to a generous donation from the Hamish Ogston Foundation so that the transformation could be carried out whilst live performances are suspended.

“The theatre may be closed for shows and we are missing our audiences desperately but this latest funding boost will enable us to ‘stay afloat’ until the time we can begin performances again – financially secure, virus safe and with new comfy seats to welcome people back,” said Clare Allen, chief executive of The Georgian Theatre Royal. We are extremely grateful to all those who are supporting us during this very uncertain and turbulent time, from Government agencies to those kind and generous individuals who have donated or declined to accept ticket refunds."

“Between us all, we can ensure that this amazing theatre – that has been in existence since 1788 – can continue to enhance the rich cultural life of our community for many years to come. The current closure is temporary but we are all resolved that our little gem of a theatre is permanent!” She added.

On announcing the first round of funding, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “This funding is a vital boost for the theatres, music venues, museums and cultural organisations that form the soul of our nation. It will protect these special places, save jobs and help the culture sector’s recovery.

“These places and projects are cultural beacons the length and breadth of the country. This unprecedented investment in the arts is proof this government is here for culture, with further support to come in the days and weeks ahead so that the culture sector can bounce back strongly.”

Chair, Arts Council England, Sir Nicholas Serota, said: “Theatres, museums, galleries, dance companies and music venues bring joy to people and life to our cities, towns and villages. This life-changing funding will save thousands of cultural spaces loved by local communities and international audiences.”

The latest grant is in addition to a £35,000 award given to the Georgian Theatre in May as part of the Arts Council’s Covid-19 Emergency Support funds.

Also benefitting is Wensleydale Railway, where the money will be used to help meet the railway’s maintenance bills and improvements being carried out while the 22-mile long route is closed because of the pandemic.

Mr Sunak said: “I am delighted that the significant contribution these attractions make to the local economy have been recognised through these substantial grants. The railway, festival and theatre are major draws for visitors to our area and it is important that they are is helped through the current crisis.

Work underway on the railway includes in the track at Swale Bridge at Morton on Swale, at Harmby and at Wensley station. Work completed includes the refurbishment of Leeming Bar Station house and renovations to rolling stock.

The track works are being carried out with the help of the railway’s volunteers and a specialist team from the Royal Engineers who are using it as a training exercise.

Carl Les, Deputy Chairman of the Wensleydale railway, said: “Heritage railways always run on the edge of viability, propped up by an army of willing volunteers and financial supporters. Our assets are understandably old, and need extensive and costly maintenance.

“It is encouraging that the Heritage Lottery has funded our restoration works to Leeming Bar Station to show what it was like in its prime. Now this extra grant has recognised that we are a small business operating in a visitor market that is heavily constrained by the pandemic, and it will help to keep us going for when the crisis is over, and people can enjoy our railway experiences again.

“We are very grateful for it, and other support like Bounce Back business loans.”