Circus performers living off handouts in Berkshire due to lockdown

Twenty circus performers have been left stranded in the UK by the coronavirus lockdown and are now living on food handouts, the head of Zippos Circus has revealed.

The circus artistes, who came to the UK from overseas, have been out of work since the Government shut all theatres on March 17.

The 20 performers are living at Zippo’s “Circus Headquarters” in Newbury, Berks., and are surviving on donations from a local food bank. 

Martin Burton, the founder and director of the 47 year old business, raised their situation with MPs this week. 

In a submission to the House of Commons, Mr Burton said: “Most of Zippo’s artistes are international, here on a Tier 5 visa with no recourse to public funds.

“Currently at the time of writing we have 20 stranded (because there are no flights home) circus artistes living at our Circus Headquarters in Newbury, West Berkshire who are relying on the local Food Bank to feed themselves as they have no money and no income.”

Mr Burton complained that the “circus and fun fair (showmen) sector” had been “completely ignored” by the various support schemes for other businesses provided by the Treasury.

He said: “The circus itself has been unable to access grants from our Local Authority because we do not pay Business Rates.

“We do not trade from our headquarters; we trade from a Big Top tent in fields and parks throughout the UK.”

Unlike conventional bricks and mortar businesses, Mr Burton said circuses could reopen quickly once restrictions were lifted because artistes “can quickly put up posters, build up the Big Top tent in a prominent park/open space and open”.

But this required financial support to cover flights for artistes, publicity and rent on parks. He urged ministers to cut VAT for circuses to five per cent “to get by when trading on reduced seating capacity due to social distancing and crowd aversion from the public”.

In a plea to the MPs, he said: “The circus sector and other Showmen feel forgotten by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which seems to understand buildings but has ignored / forgotten the outdoor event industry.

“The circus sector has recently celebrated 250 years since the modern circus was invented by an Englishman, Phillip Astley, and we seek recognition for our unique cultural heritage to survive another 250 years. Please don’t ignore the circus!”

He added: “We need to show the public (when the time is right) that it’s OK to visit large outdoor events again.”

A spokesman at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport department said: “More than £200 million of emergency public funding has been made available to the UK’s culture sector, which organisations like Let’s Circus have benefited from. 

“This is on top of the assistance that thousands of cultural organisations have already received thanks to the government’s £330 billion package of financial support, including the Jobs Retention scheme.” “As soon as it is safe to do so we will be encouraging everyone to get out there and experience the UK’s fantastic creative and cultural offerings.”

A source said the Government was setting up a new Entertainment and Events Working Group “which will get the cultural and creative sectors – including circusses – back up and running again”.

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