Initial findings from the September 2021 wave of our Cultural Participation Monitor look at rising Covid-related concerns, the effects of working from home on cultural engagement, and the challenges festive shows may face this year.

Key Points:

  1. While people's sense of wellbeing continues to slowly improve, the same audiences' concern about falling ill with Covid-19 is growing, and most expect further lockdowns both this year and next.
  2. Willingness to attend has not increased since June and people remain worried about others' behaviour, though they don't appear to think there is much more organisations themselves should be doing to make them feel safe.
  3. Most people who have worked at home for some or all of the pandemic expect to continue to do so for the foreseeable. As these tend to be high cultural engagers, they may drive increased local attendance in future.
  4. People expect to engage less in general with arts, culture and heritage in the coming months, with a particular decline in interest in festive shows potentially signalling a bleak midwinter for venues.

1. Increased wellbeing is offset by continued worry

life satisfaction.png

Wellbeing has improved a little and is returning towards normal, although there's still a way to go:

  • 70% rating 'satisfaction with your life at the moment' as 6+ out of 10, compared with 67% back in June,
  • Only 15% said that they were 'less' satisfied with their life now than before Covid, compared with 20% in June.

Not all opinions are moving in a positive direction though:

  • This increase to wellbeing is despite people being more 'worried about falling ill with COVID' (57% vs 52% Strongly Agree or Agree, compared with June).
  • And most people still expect further lockdowns, both this year (20% v likely, 47% quite likely, by Christmas) and next year (18% and 47%), though it drops off for 2023 (14% and 28%).

further lockdowns expected.png

2. A lot of people still don't feel safe to attend

Willingness to Attend

Not comfortable to attend.jpg

The proportion of people 'happy to attend' has not increased (29% in June, 28% now). In fact, the only major change is an almost doubling of the 11% to 20% of those who said they were 'not interested' in attending.

This significant increase is largely at the expense of those who previously said they 'were not comfortable attending until there has been a significant reduction in risk from COVID', suggesting that opinions may be hardening up.

Safety Concerns

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The measures considered 'very important' most frequently to make people feel comfortable attending indoor events were:

  • Crowd management 46%
  • Hand sanitiser 45%
  • Only vaccinated or those with negative tests allowed to attend 41%
  • Masks 40%
  • Social distancing of >1m 37%

The importance given to hand sanitiser, over masks and distancing, is a little surprising, given that Covid-19 transmission is predominantly airborne, rather than from surfaces contact.

People had substantial concerns about the presence or behaviour of others in terms of return to attendance (% who answered Strongly agree):

  • Only vaccinated or those with negative tests allowed to attend INDOORS 35%
  • Unsafe behaviour of others puts me off attending 32%
  • Only vaccinated or those with negative tests allowed to attend OUTDOORS 26%
  • Boosters would make me feel much more comfortable 28%
  • Cultural organisations could be doing more to make visiting 'COVID safe' 19%

3. Changed working habits may trigger a surge in localness

Working From Home Profiles

Those who have worked from home [WFH] differ from the overall population, in that:

They are more likely to:

  • Be from higher engaged Audience Spectrum groups
  • Be younger and male
  • Have limiting disabilities
  • To have had to shield
  • To have children U16.

They are more likely to have:

  • Attended arts and culture pre-Covid
  • Attended in person during Covid
  • Participated in creative activities during Covid
  • A keen interest in returning
  • Booked already.

They are also likely to continue WFH in future — 90% of people who WFH ‘all the time’ during the pandemic expect to WFH ‘all the time’ or ‘mostly’ in the next 3 months and 81% feel the same in a time with no threat of Covid.

Local Intentions

This has implications for where these highly engaged audiences are likely to attend in the future, with more attendances where they live and work, rather than where they used to work.

In fact, audiences in general intend to engage in all activities more locally, suggesting that previous indications are becoming a more established expectation.

4. Engagement is set to decline and pantos may struggle

Lower Overall Arts Engagement

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People expect to engage less after Covid than before:

  • mainly for Film (-8%)
  • but also Live Performances (net -3%)

Museums, Galleries and Heritage sites are less affected, however (with responses mostly 'the same').

lower expected engagement after covid.png

Festive Season At Risk

Only 17% rate their likelihood of attending panto this year at 8+ out of 10. Significantly less than the 23% said they attended in a typical previous year [1].

Unlikely to attend panto.pngThis, combined with other factors, make it look like panto may have a bad year. These factors being:

  • when people say they typically book,
  • the expected impact on group/school bookings,
  • and the likely drop-off between intention and actual attendance.

Of course, we know how important panto and other Christmas sales are for many venues given that 14% of total sales typically come in weeks 49-52 of the year for venues in Audience Finder, so this finding represents a serious challenge.

[1](This was based on a calculation of the percentage who said they did attend in one, two or three of the last three years). It is worth noting that this compares to 12% in Taking Part 15/16; suggesting over-reporting on both question responses.

About the Research:

The Cultural Participation Monitor is a year-long programme of research into representative samples of the UK population, to identify their cultural attendance, participation and online consumption before, during and beyond COVID-19, along with a range of other relevant information about profile, behaviour and attitudes. These findings are from Wave Four of the Monitor, with fieldwork taking place online from 8 to 18 September 2021. There were 2,025 responses, selected using quotas for age, gender, ethnicity, region and Audience Spectrum (The Audience Agency’s arts-based profiling model), weighted to ensure representativeness.

This report is part of a national research programme led by the Centre for Cultural Value in collaboration with the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and The Audience Agency.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through UK Research and Innovation’s COVID-19 rapid rolling call.