Alban Arena becomes COVID-19 vaccination centre
- Credit: Pamela Raith
With uncertainty still hanging over the return of the performing arts, the mothballed Alban Arena is set to become the city's latest Covid vaccination centre.
The news comes in the wake of staff being furloughed and customers' ongoing concerns over refunds and rescheduled shows following months of lockdown.
The Arena's remaining skeleton staff are still working their way through prior ticket purchases, with the period of cancelled shows covering most of last year and now well into 2021, leaving punters in limbo as they wait to be contacted.
We spoke to 1Life's operations director Steve Banbury about the issues the company has faced since the pandemic began, and what the future holds for the flagship venue over the coming months.
Steve said: "Due to the ongoing uncertainty we are still experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic we are having to once again re-arrange events planned for the early spring period as performances are not permitted until in normal circumstances until the end of June at the earliest."
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Working in conjunction with the NHS and St Albans district council, 1Life has now agreed for the Arena to be used as a mass vaccination centre for the community rather than remain empty and unused.
Steve welcomed the news: "We are delighted to be able to support the vaccine rollout at this critical time and make use of the site which all of our patrons love to attend.
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"Whilst we understand the disappointment at a further delay in being able to attend live performances I am sure you will join us in agreeing the temporary use will aid the local community and be vitally important in ensuring we can return to a level of normality at the earliest possible opportunity following the roll out of the vaccination scheme."
Over the last year the Alban Arena has generated no revenue, but still been required to cover operational costs of over £25,000 a month, together with staffing costs for those people not on furlough.
The venue was successful in securing an arts funding grant to provide support during lockdown and aid the recovery period, including preparing it for eventual reopening, ensuring it is Covid-secure and appointing a new general manager.
Steve encouraged ticket holders to transfer their bookings to new performance dates or accept a voucher to use for alternative shows of their choice rather than request a refund.
He explained: "Since the start of the pandemic we have manged to rearrange over 400 performances and move over 150,000 tickets to revised dates, with all customers advised of new dates where confirmed.
"Where appropriate we have maintained a future workforce and made use of the government job retention scheme where appropriate to do so, with some of the current team returning to assist with the vaccination project on site. We remain committed to protecting the arts industry and being able to return to live performances once permitted and safe to do so.
"We really appreciate the community's ongoing support of the Alban Arena and our team and we look forward to welcoming customers back in the future at the earliest opportunity."
A spokesperson for SADC added: “There are talks going on with the NHS about the potential for the Alban Arena becoming a vaccination centre for a few months, though this has yet to be confirmed.”
Meanwhile, the new Harpenden Leisure Centre, which will also be run by 1Life, is planned to open on April 12, subject to government guidelines, and an interactive virtual tour can be viewed online at https://www.1life.co.uk/Harpenden-Leisure-centre/#tour. The development of the new Eric Morecambe Centre is currently in the final stages and should open in the summer.
Keep an eye on the Alban Arena's social media channels and website www.alban-arena.co.uk for the latest programming updates.