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Shakespeare’s Globe puts brakes on Project Prospero due to funding delay

The proposed library extension alongside Shakespeare's Globe – a part of Project Prospero. Photo: Allies and Morrison

Shakespeare’s Globe is delaying a major capital project due to commence this year, claiming it needs more time to meet a higher than expected financial cost.

It follows a year in which the theatre said it had weathered a number of challenges, including reduced footfall as a result of the 2017 London Bridge terror attack, and fewer schools visits due to the “severe” cuts to arts in education.

Project Prospero has been described by the Globe as the most transformative project the theatre has seen since its creation in 1997, with a previous fundraising target of £30 million. However, the plans to create a new library, archive and production facilities have now been postponed for at least two years, the theatre’s annual review reveals.

Despite the “macro-economic” difficulties it has faced, artistic director Michelle Terry’s first summer season at the Globe achieved 89% capacity across its 11 productions, with more than a million people attending the Bankside venue’s two theatres, exhibitions and events throughout 2018/19.

More than 40% of all tickets at the Globe, which receives no public subsidy, were sold for £5.

In total, it generated an income of £24.1 million, with expenditure at £23.4 million. This is broadly similar to the previous year, when income and expenditure was £24.6 million and £23.2 million respectively.

In 2018, the annual review said the organisation had delivered a surplus of £374,000 that would be reinvested into future projects.

Responding to the report, Terry said: “To make art and culture that is truly accessible for all, both on and off our stages, takes huge investment. Of course, financial investment, but also investment of time.

“Time to listen and to learn, and then more time to convert lessons into knowledge, understanding and most importantly, action. Then we need time to fail, and time for patience and courage to try again and time to forgive when change doesn’t happen quickly enough. I feel very proud to be part of an organisation that is committed to trying and failing and learning and trying again.”

The now delayed Project Prospero, which was first mooted in 2016, will see the theatre create a building for a new library for its archive material and exhibition centre, and will house rehearsal rooms, backstage production facilities, education studios and event spaces.

Shakespeare’s Globe to fit library and rehearsal rooms in Project Prospero overhaul [1]

The theatre has previously set a fundraising target of £30 million for the capital plans, which it described as “the most transformative project envisaged since the creation of the Globe itself”.

However, it said a pre-construction review had identified a higher total cost than had been anticipated, which has now forced the organisation to delay the start of the project by at least two years in order for the funds to be raised.

While the Globe said start dates for the project had always been flexible and dependent on funding, the project had planned to commence in October 2019. The new date is October 2021, with a phased completion in 2023 and 2024.

The annual review identified a number of “significant financial challenges” that had contributed to it beginning the 2019 season in a “secure” position overall but “with a much reduced surplus, reduced income from audiences and visitors and increased costs”.

It said the Globe had been affected by London’s experience of terrorism in 2017, particularly by its proximity to the site of the London Bridge attack, and identified the uncertainty surrounding Brexit as another contributing factor.

Chief executive Neil Constable added the theatre had also seen a significant drop in schools visits in 2018, due to the increasing budgetary pressures on schools, however its education work still engaged with more than 139,248 students and participants.

He said the organisation planned to make some organisational changes in the coming financial year to secure its financial footing, which include the previously known changes to its exhibition and tour department.

Earlier this year, the Globe announced it would be closing its permanent exhibition space in order to repurpose the area for more commercial activities, leaving a number of staff facing the threat of redundancy.

Redundancy threat looms at Shakespeare’s Globe as ‘difficult financial year’ bites [2]