Fleabag stars' coronavirus hardship fund gets £500,000 boost from Amazon

August 13, 2020

A fund set up by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman to support UK theatre professionals through the COVID-19 pandemic is getting a half-million-pound boost.

The Fleabag actresses say they're "utterly blown away" by the donation from Amazon Prime.

It is part of an overall £4.6m committed by the streaming service to support the recovery of the European TV, film and performing arts, which have been badly hit by coronavirus.

The Theatre Community Fund was established by the actresses along with Fleabag producer Francesca Moody.

Amazon is home to Fleabag outside the UK, and Waller-Bridge last year also signed an exclusive contract to make programmes for Amazon Prime.

The streaming service has also donated £1m to the UK's Film and TV Charity's COVID-19 Response.

Eligible workers in the UK film, television, and cinema industry will be able to apply for grants of up to £4,500 to support them through the shutdown.

The charity is also calling on the industry and individual donors to add to Amazon's donation and has set a goal of raising £3.2m.

Announcing the donation, head of Amazon Studios Jennifer Salke paid tribute to the level of talent within the UK.

"The creative community in Europe has been vital to our success in producing high-quality Amazon original TV series and movies for our global audience, and it is essential for us to help that community through this pandemic," she said.

"We've made our first donations of £1.5 million today to provide support to the talented freelancers from the UK's creative community who have been directly affected by the closure of theatres and halt in TV and film production.

"As we gear up production on a number of Amazon original series across the UK and Europe in the coming months, we're committed to continuing to support Europe's talented creative community through this crisis."

The £500,000 donation to the Theatre Community Fund (which will be dispersed and monitored by the Royal Theatrical Fund in partnership with the Fleabag Support Fund) will help provide hardship grants of up to £3,000 to theatre workers and freelancers across the UK.

Colman, Waller-Bridge and Moody said: "We're utterly blown away to have such an extraordinary level of support from Amazon.

"Our theatre community has never been more threatened or fragile, and this donation, alongside those from other industry individuals, is a game-changer for its future.

"On behalf of the Theatre Community Fund, we extend a huge thank you to Amazon for the acknowledgement of the value and power of UK theatre and how we as an industry will survive anything when we hold each other up in times of crisis."

Film and TV Charity chief executive Alex Pumfrey drew attention to the need to support diverse talent throughout the crisis.

Ms Pumfrey said: "We're incredibly grateful to Amazon for demonstrating such huge support for people working in television and film at this most difficult time for the industry.

"This fantastic donation to the Film and TV Charity will kick-start a new fund to support the diverse talent in our industry through the recovery process.

"We know that the pandemic has a disproportionate impact on people who are already under-represented in our industry and that we must take action to prevent even greater inequality.

"There is a time-limited opportunity to protect the diversity of our industry for the future and I hope that others will seize this moment to contribute to our COVID-19 response."

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Last month, Netflix donated £500,000 to help director Sir Sam Mendes establish his own Theatre Artists Fund. A host of A-list stars also contributed, with the money set to help individuals working in the theatre industry.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a £1.57bn coronavirus lifeline for the arts last month, which allows venues to apply for emergency grants and loans, there are still no plans in place to resume live performances.

It is estimated that 350,000 people in the recreation and leisure sector have been furloughed since the pandemic began, but that scheme is due to end in October.

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