Equity welcomes the announcement from Arts Council England that English National Opera will receive a further grant of £24 million to fund its work from April 2024 to March 2026. We particularly welcome the news that substantially more time has been granted to ENO to manage a proper transition to a new model which retains the company’s London presence whilst building on its successes to expand to new audiences elsewhere in the country.
Our message remains clear: truly affordable and accessible opera requires sufficient funding, a specialist workforce engaged on strong terms and conditions, and all underpinned by a proper strategy.
This shift in ACE’s position could not have happened without the dedicated campaigning of Equity members, their colleagues in our sister unions, and other allies who have supported the campaign to reinstate funding, protect jobs and ensure that widening access to opera across the country does not come at the cost of working class Londoners. From speaking directly about their experiences to Members of Parliament to demonstrating outside ACE’s offices, every action taken has contributed to the shift in ACE’s position and a steady movement away from the catastrophic removal of funding announced back in November 2022. We are of course also extremely grateful to those politicians who have lent their support to this campaign, including Sir Bob Neill MP who chaired a cross-party roundtable at which our members spoke, and London Assembly members from all political parties who voted unanimously to support the ENO workforce.
Equity’s campaigning will not stop. Our focus will continue to be on ensuring that the jobs of our London based members in the chorus and stage management are protected and that the commitment to a substantial season at the London Coliseum is honoured in any new business plan. Any reduction in the length of the opera season at the London Coliseum presents a risk both to the highly specialised workforce and to the identity of an opera company whose established London presence has been key to building its international partnerships and donor base. Furthermore, this London presence will prove vital to the success of activity outside the capital.
Ronald Nairne, Equity Deputy, ENO Chorus said: “In the last twenty years salaried jobs in the arts for performers have all but been wiped out. The last nine months have left us with huge uncertainty about future income. I cautiously welcome today’s news that funding has been granted enabling ENO to continue producing opera at the London Coliseum but the devil will be in the detail - retention of a permanent chorus and orchestra is vital to prevent turning a highly skilled profession, that my colleagues and I have spent years training for, into a hobby.”
Checca Ponsonby, Equity Deputy, ENO Stage Management said: “I have regularly been engaged as a freelancer at the ENO for over a decade. I have studied, trained and dedicated my career in opera and so the last nine months have been a time of stress, anxiety and uncertainty for myself and my colleagues. News about additional funding from ACE is welcome, as is the commitment to a substantial season at the London Coliseum.”
Paul W Fleming, General Secretary, Equity said: “Today’s announcement from ACE and ENO represents much of what Equity has been demanding for the last nine months – a retention of ENO in London, giving a strong foundation from which to expand its activity to another location, and more time for the company to create a workable plan for this. This climbdown could not have happened without the relentless campaigning of Equity members. We will continue to work alongside our members to ensure that unionized jobs in the chorus and stage management remain protected and that our members have a strong voice in what comes next for ENO. Serious questions remain about how fit for purpose the National Portfolio approach is, and this decision stands in stark contrast to the continued failure to secure producing theatre in Oldham.”