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‘Very real’ risk Alexandra Palace could shut down without government grant, warns Muswell Hill chief exec

PUBLISHED: 17:49 12 November 2020 | UPDATED: 19:15 12 November 2020

Alexandra Palace chief executive Louise Stewart. Picture: Alexandra Palace

Alexandra Palace chief executive Louise Stewart. Picture: Alexandra Palace

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The chief executive of Alexandra Palace says there is a “very real” risk the Muswell Hill venue could shut down without emergency government funding.

Alexandra Park. Picture: Victoria Jones/PAAlexandra Park. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA

“Tens” of full-time workers are being made redundant or have already been let go amid the palace’s continued financial troubles.

Before the job cuts, predominantly of junior workers in customer-facing roles, the palace had around 90 permanent staff.

Due to its significantly reduced operations during the pandemic, it no longer employs any of its approximate 140 casual workers.

The national lockdown, set to last until at least December 2, has seen the palace and ice rink close, and its live peformances postponed.

The historic venue, which opened in 1873, is still waiting for the outcome of its near £3 million grant application to the government’s culture recovery fund.

Before the lockdown was announced, Ally Pally’s chief executive Louise Stewart told the Ham&High: “We wouldn’t have applied for the money if we didn’t desperately need it.

Alexandra Palace during the World Darts Championship. Picture: Steven Paston/PAAlexandra Palace during the World Darts Championship. Picture: Steven Paston/PA

“[Without it] we would have to row back quite a lot of the activity, close parts of the palace and definitely go into almost a partial mothballing approach to minimise expenditure.

“So without that funding, it’s not a pretty picture at all.”

Louise said the redundancies were “heartbreaking” – even more so in the current climate where competition for every job is “huge”.

She said the best case scenario was that the government grant came through, allowing the palace to “recover and survive”. The worst was that Ally Pally would “never recover”.

“I think there’s a very real risk that the palace could be closed, yes,” the chief exec said.

“I’m not sure that has necessarily been understood by the local population, but those that know the palace know that that is a very real risk.

Alexandra Palace's theatre was transformed to record the Melody VR Wireless festival earlier this year. Picture: Luke DysonAlexandra Palace's theatre was transformed to record the Melody VR Wireless festival earlier this year. Picture: Luke Dyson

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“We are a very lean organisation, we don’t have millions of pounds in reserves.

“We have nothing in cash reserves, because it is a finely tuned machine financially, and we have spent the last ten years getting back to a level of financial resilience.

“That has been much, much helped, obviously, by the east wing and the reopening of the east court and the theatre.

“Now, it just feels like we will be going back five to ten years to when there was only a very small operation in the park and palace, when we weren’t keeping up with the maintenance and the repair, and the park wasn’t in the condition it is today.

“So I think that there is a very real risk that we will not just be going backwards a few years, we could be going backwards many years.”

The palace's summer terrace attracted 17,000 visitors. Picture: Alexandra PalaceThe palace's summer terrace attracted 17,000 visitors. Picture: Alexandra Palace

To help tackle its deficit, Ally Pally received a £500,000 grant from Haringey Council and £250,000 from the National Heritage Lottery Fund. It has also raised £200,000 from its own fundraising.

Louise said that while such monies have helped close the palace’s funding gap, balancing the books was still a “massive challenge”.

The palace’s trading subsidiary – which raises money for the charity – has seen its projected turnover fall from around £17-18m to £3-4m. Its trust, meanwhile, is still “hundreds of thousands” of pounds in debt.

Despite these difficulties, Louise said the atmosphere remained “positive” and that she was proud of the palace and her team for battling through the hurdles of Covid-19.

Before the nationwide restrictions, the palace hosted a series of live performances, TV shoots and art installations; held drive-in opera and cinema; welcomed 17,000 people to its outdoor terrace; and attracted record numbers to its 196-acre park, which received a Green Flag award for setting the benchmark environmental standard.

The palace was also recognised this month for improving its accessibility for disabled and deaf people – awarded a ‘silver standard’ by the charity Attitude is Everything.

The drive-in cinema held at Alexandra Palace in the autumn. Picture: Josh FrayThe drive-in cinema held at Alexandra Palace in the autumn. Picture: Josh Fray

Louise said the palace was “fighting as hard as we can,” adding: “I think the rollercoaster is that there have been bright spots of achievement, but that overall there is no end in sight.

“It’s now a case of how long we can keep going and I think that applies to everybody who’s seen the negative impact of the pandemic.”

To donate to the Alexandra Palace fundraiser click here.

READ MORE: ‘This is a massive challenge’: Alexandra Palace faces £1m funding gap as it asks public to help plug lockdown shortfall


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