Cultural industries to receive boost from researchers to help recover from Covid-19

A new research project that will play a key role in helping the cultural sector recover from the impact of Covid-19 is being launched by researchers at the University of Sheffield.

A silhouette of a man looking at a set of four graphic prints in an art gallery.
  •  University of Sheffield researchers launch project that could play a key role in helping the cultural sector reopen and recover from the impact of Covid-19
  • Study to partner with key city venues to collect data on audiences’ opinions to help understand the impact of social distancing in venues – and help them attract and maintain audiences
  • Economic data from venues and freelancers will be fed directly into business recovery plans for the cultural industries in the Sheffield City Region and will help understand the impact across the UK
  • Research will help identify gaps in support for freelancers and work with venues to understand the challenges they face in order to shape recovery plans

A new research project that will play a key role in helping the cultural sector recover from the impact of Covid-19 is being launched by researchers at the University of Sheffield.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through the UK Research and Innovation Covid-19 Rapid Response Fund, the project is led by Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Culture at the University and Chair in Early Film and Popular Entertainment, with colleagues from the Music, English and Urban Studies and Planning departments.

In partnership with key cultural organisations in Sheffield, the one-year project will collect crucial data on audiences, venues and freelancers that can be fed directly into policies and economic recovery plans for the cultural industry in the Sheffield City Region and across the UK.

With many other businesses and industries already reopened after the easing of lockdown restrictions, a large proportion of the cultural and heritage sectors are still closed. This is having a catastrophic impact on the industry and endangering the future of many of its venues and workers in a sector that was worth £111 billion to the UK’s economy before Covid-19.

The true economic impact of Covid-19 on the cultural sector is not yet fully understood beyond the short term, so researchers from the University’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning will help with economic recovery modelling, develop strategies for external funding priorities and provide a robust picture of the long term support required for the sector.

There are still huge uncertainties around how some cultural venues can safely reopen and attract and maintain the audiences needed to support their businesses.

The University of Sheffield study will draw on the expertise of colleagues in its Department of Music to collect key data to help the sector better understand how audiences could feel comfortable in safely returning to venues.

Dr Sarah Price, Professor Stephannie Pitts and Professor Renee Timmers, who are experts on audiences and music psychology through their work with the Sheffield Performer and Audience Research Centre (SPARC) and Music Mind Machine Research Centre, will track the opinions of audiences who attend reopened venues to gather insight into how confident they are about returning to future events. Findings will help cultural organisations and venues understand the impact of social distancing measures and make improvements to help maintain audiences.

This is a unique opportunity to bring together the expertise of my colleagues in the faculties of arts and humanities and social sciences so our research can have an immediate impact and help the city that we love so much.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin

Director of City and Culture

The study will work directly with freelancers to help identify gaps in support and inequalities, but also good practice and innovation.

Findings from the project will be shared with cultural venues, professionals and freelancers throughout the Sheffield City Region and nationally with the help of key partners such as the Music Venue Trust, Theatres Trust, Museums Association, Arts Council England, Core Cities UK, Local Government Association and Royal Town Planning Institute.

In Sheffield, insights will be shared with project partners across the city, including Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Culture Consortium, Museums Sheffield, Sheffield Theatres, Creative Guild and the Independent Festival Network. Partner organisations in arts, culture and heritage will ensure that key data can be fed into recovery plans across the Sheffield City Region.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Culture at the University of Sheffield, said:

“As lovers of all of the wonderful things that make Sheffield such a great place to live, work, visit and study in, the impact of Covid-19 is particularly devastating. 49 per cent of leisure and cultural industries colleagues are still furloughed in the Sheffield City Region and the very things that make our city a fantastic place are under threat. We hope our research can make a difference.”

This project enables the University's expert researchers to work closely with our partners to jointly address the challenge of facilitating the sustainable return of these fantastic venues and events so that they may, once again, play a key role in the vitality of our city and region. In doing so, we will generate crucial insights about how best to support arts and culture across the whole of the UK in the years ahead.

Dr John Flint

University of Sheffield’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning

For more information on the University’s role in the city, visit:

Additonal information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Sean Barton
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 9852