Smith & Williamson administrates Southampton theatre group

07 May 2020 3 min. read

After being severely hit by the coronavirus lockdown, the operator of Southampton's Nuffield theatres has gone into administration. Administrators from professional services firm Smith & Williamson are now looking to find a buyer for Nuffield Southampton Theatres’ two venues – at the University of Southampton campus and in the city centre.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the lock-down implemented to slow its spread have had a major impact on almost every aspect of economic and social life. Businesses which depend on live events have understandably been among the hardest hit – with cinemas and theatres closed until further notice as part of the UK’s social distancing efforts.

The Nuffield Theatres started life when the University of Southampton, supported by the Nuffield Foundation, built a venue on its campus for the people of Southampton. Built by Sir Basil Spence, it was officially opened in March 1964, and later became an independent theatre. As of 1982, it began mounting its own productions, funded by Arts Council England, the University of Southampton and Hampshire County Council. Known today as Nuffield Southampton Theatres, it opened a second venue last year, NST City, in Southampton’s Cultural Quarter, where it mounted the world premiere of Howard Brenton’s The Shadow Factory.

Smith & Williamson administrates Southampton theatre group

Unfortunately, while the venues initially drew theatre-goers from across the south, including many Dorset students on school trips, the current lock-down has seen its business become untenable. With most of the organisation’s 80 staff already on furlough since the Covid-19 lockdown caused all shows to be cancelled or postponed, Nuffield Theatres has confirmed the appointment of administrators, who are now searching for a buyer.

Greg Palfrey and Steve Adshead, from the South Coast office of Smith & Williamson in Southampton, take on the joint administration of the award-winning organisation, and are running its financial affairs while searching for new owners. According to the pair, the sale may prove difficult, thanks to the continued lock-down.

Palfrey said, “We will do our best to sell the business and its assets, albeit in testing commercial conditions which have no parallel in modern British history. NST, in line with other performance venues, suddenly found itself with unprecedented pressure on cash flow in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak – a flood of refund requests and little in the way of advanced bookings… The government’s request on March 17 for the public not to attend theatres, to help prevent transmission, clearly impacted on their ability to trade.”

The theatre sector reportedly experienced a 92% drop in advanced ticket sales as pandemic measures kicked in earlier in 2020, and there are still no known reopening dates for public venues. Despite this, the administrators insist that a buyer with the right patience and long-term mentality could benefit from purchasing Nuffield Southampton Theatres, which “is a well-respected theatre company, with a range of assets, that could survive and thrive.”

Concluding, Palfrey added, “The board stated that it regretted that this action had to be taken and is aware of the impact of this on independent artists and partner companies across the sector at this difficult time; it has kept Arts Council England informed. The Board remain hopeful that the City venue will be able to reopen to artists and the community alike in the future.”