2/3 of English National Opera Chorus Members at Risk of Leaving the Profession

The English National Opera workforce will meet with the group of MPs and Lords in parliament tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday 28 March).

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Ahead of a meeting between English National Opera (ENO) chorus members and a cross-party group of MPs and Lords tomorrow afternoon, Equity - the performing arts and entertainment union - has found that two thirds (67.9%) of the English National Opera chorus are at risk of leaving the profession entirely, if Arts Council England (ACE) follows through on its decision to move the ENO out of its historic home at the London Coliseum.

Equity's survey of the affected workforce found that chorus members have strong ties to the capital, half (50%) having care responsibilities in the city, and 9 in 10 (89.3%) living with someone reliant on work within commutable distance. This means that if the ENO were to relocate full time or for the majority of the time to another city, most would not only have to leave the company (82.1%), but leave the profession altogether. Three quarters (76.9%) of those who own property that they live in say they would be at risk of losing it in this scenario.

When asked if the ENO were to divide its time between London and another location - comprising, for example, of a small season at the London Coliseum and a small season elsewhere - almost 4 in 5 (78.6%) chorus members would not be able to move out of London part-time and three quarters (75%) would leave their job. In this scenario, almost as many (60.7%) would have to leave the profession altogether as would have to leave if the ENO were to relocate full time or for the majority of the time to another city. 85.2% of those who undertake additional work alongside their job at the ENO would also be at risk of losing these jobs.

In both scenarios, care responsibilities, family commitments and needing to work freelance jobs in London in addition to their work for the ENO (the ENO season runs for 9 months of the year) were cited as reasons why they would unworkable. Health and age were also cited by some as reasons.

The English National Opera workforce will meet with the group of MPs and Lords in parliament tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday 28 March), to discuss how this decision will upend their livelihoods, and next steps towards lobbying Lucy Frazer, the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to intervene to reverse Arts Council England's decision.

Equity's General Secretary, Paul W Fleming also commented on the findings of the ENO Chorus survey, saying:

"As this survey shows, by pulling the rug from under the English National Opera, Arts Council England believe they are just moving numbers around on a spreadsheet. But they are actually asking a long established workforce to upend their whole lives, for a vague promise of potential work, written in the sand.

"This highly skilled, diverse and world renowned chorus are expected to suddenly move to an unknown place, for an unknown reason by the Arts Council, who seem to have made this baffling decision with zero thought for its consequences for the workforce, the audience, and the ability of people across the UK to access opera.

"When Sadlers Wells Ballet moved to Birmingham or Opera North became independent of the ENO, more quality jobs were created. Historically, ACE has been committed to levelling up - now they're just tearing down."

Responding to the survey, chorus members told us:

"There just isn't the freelance work available to maintain a singing career in 2023. I'm over 50 years old and what with any training that I would need to be employable, I fear I will never work again - particularly with my health limitations."

"In 2016, the ENO chorus were forced to reduce our annual work from a full year to nine months - meaning I had to take on extra freelance work in London over the weekend and beyond in order to survive financially. If we were to move out, I would lose all of that work and the effort involved in making those extra contacts."

"My partner's mother lives in London and has Alzheimers disease so he is involved in her care. My partner also has complex health needs and I support him with his health and treatment, so the prospect of being away for several months or weeks carries significant risk for us."

"If I moved out of London it would be impossible for me to replace my income as a freelance singer not least because there is so little work in this country, and most work exists in and around London. I also suffer from a rare and significant illness and my treatment and doctors are all in London. In addition, I have elderly parents who I need to be near to care for. But if I lose my job I will also lose the home that I brought up my four children in as a single mum whilst working at the ENO for the last 25 years."


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