Latest easing of restrictions brings new hope to circus stranded in Morecambe since Covid-19 lockdown began

The circus which has been stuck in Morecambe since the start of lockdown hopes the latest changes to restrictions across England means they will soon be able to perform again.

Monday, 13th July 2020, 2:19 pm
Updated Monday, 13th July 2020, 2:32 pm
Some of the Big Kid Circus family. Photo: Big Kid Circus

Last week, we reported how the Big Kid Circus artists had been forced to set up their own crowdfunding page to help them survive.

They admitted they have "literally got nothing" and have been struggling to survive from day to day.

The circus usually travels across the UK and south east Asia, but has been on Morecambe prom since March after the government's coronavirus lockdown restrictions meant they were unable to perform.

The circus has been stranded in Morecambe since lockdown began in March.

During this time, the troupe has been supported by the generous people of Lancaster and Morecambe, as well as Morecambe Bay Foodbank, as they have had no income coming in to support the 35 adults, four children and four dogs that make up the Big Kid Circus family.

Thursday's government announcement said that where audiences are socially-distanced, live outdoor performances are now allowed.

It is now hoped that this latest guidance will mean Big Kid Circus can start operating once again.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport contacted the circus on Friday to confirm that the new guidelines for outdoor events includes "marquees or tented structures where performance occures in front of a live audience, such as tented circus events.

Big Kid Circus manager Julia Kirilova, whose family runs the circus, said: "This is great news, but we still need approval from local authorities and we would need it before we go on tour. But this is one step forward."

Morecambe MP David Morris said the news was positive for the circus.

"I have raised the Big Kid Circus’ case with Government on a number of occasions as they were stuck in Morecambe," he said.

"As they did not have rateable premises they did not qualify for the business grants, but they will have been electable for the job retention scheme or the self employment grant depending on how their artists are paid and be eligible for the bounce back loans through their bank.

"The Government has announced that performances can recommence outdoors with socially distanced audiences, which should help the circus be able to resume performances outdoors with a socially distanced audience.

"There will be pilot schemes and further work carried out on indoor performances but these will only resume when they are deemed to be safe to both the performers and the audiences."

In April we reported how tough life had become for the group - aged between two and 92 - since lockdown was enforced.

They didn't even get to put on a show for the resort, as the coronavirus restrictions were brought in just days after they arrived in town.

The artists are not eligible for any government support as they are not EU or UK citizens.

And despite paying tax, they are not eligible for any help as they don't have a property that they pay rent on.

They were allowed to stay in Morecambe by Lancaster City Council, who also provided them with electricity, running water and refuse collections.

And the artists - many of whom are from Cuba, as well as other performers from across Europe - are currently unable to return home due to borders being closed and a lack of funds for air fares.

They have no money to pay for insurance or MOTs for their vehicles, and their visas will soon need renewing at a cost of up to £17,000.

The issue is a national problem for circuses, and last week the national Guardian reported a warning from the Association of Circus Proprietors that Britain’s 250-year-old circus tradition could see many companies go bust within just two weeks without help.

Monday’s announcement that a £1.57bn culture lifeline was to be given to the arts made no reference to circuses.

Many artists visited Downing Street last week to deliver a letter to the Prime Minister calling for the urgent reopening of venues after lockdown before “a great British institution is lost forever”.

Big Kid Circus ringmistress Olympia Posirca said it had been frustrating being turned back at every attempt to gain help.

"Every grant that comes up for the arts we are not eligible for," she said. "It can be because we don't have a premises or we are not in a theatre, there's never just one reason.

"All we are being told is that we are falling through the cracks - we have had to turn it into a joke now.

"There are about 35 different circuses in England and we are all in the same boat, but we are the only one that has 100 per cent of its artists still in this situation.

"We had saved some money to pay for flights for when the borders open, but we had to make the decision to spend some of it for them to live.

"We have literally got nothing. It's got to the point where we are having to do a crowdfunding page because if we are suddenly allowed to work again we won't be able to afford to move.

"As a rule we hate begging but we are having to ask people to please help us out if they can.

"We don't like asking for money but it has turned into a necessity."

Olympia said they have been trying to liaise with immigration officers about the artists' visas, which are due to run out in December despite having not been used.

It is hoped they might be able to have them refunded or deferred, which would save them thousands of pounds in renewal fees.

In the meantime, the strict visa guidelines have meant they have had to turn down offers of work from within the Morecambe community.

Olympia said Lancaster City Council has been helping them as much as possible.

"Obviously it's unchartered territory for the council as well but we are working really closely with them, and any kind of grants or loans or funding they become aware of, they contact us to see if they can help," she said.

"We genuinely wouldn't have survived if it wasn't for the city council and we cannot thank them enough."

Other help has recently come in the form of a large donation of fresh food by staff at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, who had a surplus from donations of their own.

"The foodbank has also been brilliant," Olympia said. "People here have been amazing, bringing us food and clothes."As soon as we can open we will have the biggest celebration ever for Morecambe."

Coun Erica Lewis, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “The city council has been supporting Big Kid Circus since the start of the pandemic. The land they occupy is owned by the city council and we have ensured there are facilities available for them, including water and electricity, throughout their stay. They have also benefited from our partnership with Morecambe Bay Foodbank, with regular deliveries of fresh provisions.

“Unfortunately, as far as funding is concerned, they do not qualify for the discretionary grant scheme because they are not a local business, being registered in Crewe, nor do they meet the eligibility requirements for the other government schemes.

"They are unfortunately not alone, with the circus industry as a whole facing a desperate situation, and we need the government to act and find a national solution.

“We’re eager to help as far as we are able and if they would like to contact us again at [email protected] our Business Support Hub may be able to assist further.”

To donate to the circus, go online hereThe artists also held a small circus workshop and salsa lessons on Morecambe prom at the weekend to raise money.