Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Louise Miles-Payne

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Louise Miles-Payne, Director of Creu Cymru. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

Global pandemic? I think I’ll start a new job…

On the evening of Monday 16th March my then employers, Cardiff University, instructed all staff who could to immediately work from home from the next day. This meant leaving my desk (mug and all) and not knowing when I might return. This was an even odder situation for me as I was due to finish my job at the University at the end of April. As the situation and lockdown extended, I left my job, desk and all, and then started a dream job back in the arts sector.

At the start of May I began my new role as Director of Creu Cymru, the development agency for theatres and arts centres in Wales. Our members represent virtually all the nation’s professionally run venues, at a diverse range of scales. We are the leading force in the arts sector in working to develop a vibrant, knowledgeable and progressive presenting sector working to engage and develop audiences across Wales through the promotion of high-quality and accessible work.

The job is working from home anyway, so I went from working from home because we had to, to working from home for my job. Although, there won’t usually be a 22-month-old toddler running around too so that has proved tricky! I can’t say it is the easiest environment to get to grips with a new role.

Both me and my wife have worked for most of lockdown, so like a lot of parents, we have juggled childcare and work, which has been tough but also an absolute privilege to be able to spend so much time with our son and watch him grow.

Abby has recently been furloughed for three weeks, which has helped temporarily with the juggle struggle as I call it and allowed me to focus on my new role. I’m really lucky to have a fantastic small but perfectly formed team to work with and really supportive board.

As with a lot of sectors, it is a very difficult time to be in the arts.

The same day as I was told to work from home by Cardiff Uni, we saw theatres and arts centres around the UK close their doors due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Back then I don’t think anyone could imagine the situation we are in now which could mean that most theatres and arts centres won’t reopen until 2021, if they have the finances to even stay open that long. All the plans I had for the organisation before I started the job are still there but may have to wait a few months before I implement them. Right now, I’m working with the members and wider sector to look at how we can create a plan for reopening and connect with our audiences during this time.

There are obviously the logistics to think about in terms of health and safety and potentially having social distancing measures in place but also how they can plan financially, how we can support staff, what productions can we put on our stages in the future or how can we present work in more innovate ways (I’m already hearing plans for drive in theatre events etc).

I’ve always tried to look for the positives in life and never has there been a more important time to try and focus on the good. I’ve loved getting to know all my neighbours and helping each other out. It’s been fantastic to be able to connect with our members and other colleagues across Wales through Zoom meetings and continue that sense of community I’ve always felt from working in the arts.

There is so much learning to take from this time and how it will influence life as we know it for the better. I look forward to working from home without my toddler, but I know I will miss his beautiful face and sticky hands enormously!

An old tradition that has been upheld during the closure was the one where theatres leave a single ghost lamp on the stage, to light up the dark when everyone has gone home. It is said that the lamp, left in the middle of the stage, is there so that spirits of the theatre can dance at night, others say it is there for safety!

Either way, it has become a symbol for theatres during this pandemic, reaching out to audiences, staff and anyone who loves theatre that, although we are empty, we will be back.

Follow Louise on Twitter @loumilcru / follow Creu Cymru @creucymru.

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