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Sage Gateshead’s Annual Review 2019/20 a stark reminder of the pandemic’s impact as the North East’s centre for music pivots towards Recovery

Posted on 4 February 2021

Sage Gateshead

Sage Gateshead has issued its Annual Review for the year 2019/2020. Having overlapped Covid-19 restrictions by just two weeks it is a picture of life and music as it was before the pandemic hit.

The Annual Review details activities and their impacts including Sage Gateshead’s Young People’s Summer Festival, In Harmony Newcastle Gateshead, its Artist Development work and Summer Studios, the performances of Royal Northern Sinfonia and its inclusive ensemble RNS Moves, and some 350 performances given by Contemporary artists including Nick Cave, Kamasi Washington and k.d. lang.

But what seems staggering now, almost a year after the pandemic started, are some of the numbers shared – 274,734 audience for live ticketed events, 501 performances in Sage Gateshead and beyond, and 430,863 visitors to the building.

A picture of freelance musicians’ opportunities pre-pandemic is laid bare through details such as the 243 artists supported through Artist Development programmes and the 77 events which showcased emerging artists.

And the central, embedded role of Sage Gateshead locally is brought to life through the impact it has on many diverse communities and people across Newcastle, Gateshead and the North: 257 free community events, reaching 20,071 people; 3,211 Make Music classes delivered; the work with 222 schools, the instruments given to children, the arts awards and qualifications earned by students and the over 5,500 weekly class participants.

The scale is unescapable. As is the impact:

“It really does help to lift the spirits… it makes you feel good and we look forward to it so much.” Well Tuned participant

“Coming here has changed my life. I feel happier, I have matured and become more confident.” Graeme, Music Spark Traineeship graduate

Today the building is closed, like it was for almost all of last year. But the work continues online to deliver classes and to support artists, to produce streamed concerts when possible, and to continue serving its communities while planning for the future of Sage Gateshead and the North East.

Today Sage Gateshead shares how its focus will move towards recovery, launching the next stage of its three-year fundraising campaign Crisis, Recovery and Renaissance which aims to raise £1million this year, and £3million over the 2020-23 period.

If the campaign meets this target, its supporters will have ensured Sage Gateshead not only survives but will have adapted to a new world and provided substantial community benefit throughout the pandemic. This will mean the organisation can continue to bring extraordinary live music experiences to the North East into the future.

Abigail Pogson, Managing Director of Sage Gateshead said “Our way out of Covid-19 will set our future direction, charting a course towards the middle of the 21st century. Arts and culture can and should play a vital role in Covid-recovery: in re-establishing social connections, in uplifting and creating hope, in improving mental health and wellbeing, in drawing people to city, town and village centres, in creating jobs and in helping us make sense of a confusing and complex world. 

“We know that the North East of England has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic – in health, social and economic impact. And as a consequence, it needs a well-co-ordinated and long-term approach to recovery. Our aim over this period will be to play a useful and active role in recovery and in setting a new course for our region to thrive. 

“This will be at a time when communities in the North need us more than ever, and we want to have the ability to meaningfully respond. Music plays a vital role in improving health and wellbeing, education and learning, and in creating positive shared experiences. We want to retain and support the wealth of musical talent across the region for the benefit of all.”


Sage Gateshead’s priorities through this Recovery year will be:

Support artists to make extraordinary music – from jazz to folk, from electronic to classical – which will be from the North and for the whole region, country and world to enjoy. Through:

  • Realising a new vision for our orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia
  • Creating a new hub where artists can create, collaborate and develop
  • Investing in digital equipment so people can connect with artists and music in new ways

Ensure all children and young people from our region can find joy, develop life skills and build careers in and through music. Through:

  • Creating a unified learning programme of classes, projects and performances for young musicians
  • Reimagining our hall, Sage Two, as a year-round development centre for future talent
  • Investing in the digital delivery of our learning programme

Support our communities’ wellbeing, making live music part of everyone’s life. Through:

  • Asking people in the North East how they see the future of live music
  • Involving communities in decisions about our future work
  • Creating new projects for our communities to make music together

Abigail Pogson continued: “60% of our income comes from concerts, classes and events – this income stopped overnight. A further 20% of our income is impacted by this crisis.

“Despite these significant challenges, we are deeply committed to responding to the needs of our communities during this crisis. And we are also committed to strengthening our organisation’s long-term impact. We have ambitious plans for our future, and we want to start work on our Recovery and Renaissance in 2021-23. 

“The generosity of our patrons, supporters, corporate partners, trusts, foundations and audiences has protected this organisation through the most extraordinary year many of us have experienced. We owe them a huge debt of thanks. As we look to play our role in the recovery, building a new, fairer future, and enriching lives through access to live music, we ask those who can do so, to continue to support us in playing this vital role for the North East.”


For further information, interviews or images please contact:
Jackie Thompson, Marketing & Communications Manager, Sage Gateshead

Susie Gray, Director, The Corner Shop PR, 07834 073795

Annual Review online:


  • Since opening 15 years ago, Sage Gateshead has worked side by side with partners and the wider community to help address the complex blend of social and economic challenges the region faces.
  • Sage Gateshead continues to be major employer and has brought investment and tourism into the region, generating c. £500 million contribution to the local economy.
  • More importantly, Sage Gateshead has brought social, cultural and educational value to over 10 million people and millions more via digital and broadcast activity.
  • Last year Sage Gateshead attracted 2 million visitors; 5,000 people took part in weekly music classes; 17,854 school children experienced live orchestral music and we worked with a further 2,418 vulnerable young people; more than 2,000 adults a week took part in music making designed to tackle social isolation.
  • The North East region is one of the worst affected by Covid-19. The region will be one where the recovery is slow and hard. Arts and culture have a pivotal role to play in regional and nation-wide recovery.
  • Covid-19 presents a major financial challenge to Sage Gateshead, the iconic Foster + Partners designed NE landmark.  80% of its income has been affected, and in 2020-21 £10 million in revenue will be lost. The organisation has taken swift action to overcome this crisis, but further challenges lie ahead. 90% of the workforce has been on furlough, significant cost savings have been sought and found, and its fundraising campaign aims to raise £3 million to help secure the organisation during the next three years. However, income levels are likely to be drastically reduced well into next year, and so the charity is redoubling its fundraising efforts.
  • Arts and Culture in the North East had a turnover of £400 million, providing employment for 2,450 people in 2016 (last year for which figures are available)
  • Performing arts accounted for 33% (i.e. >£133 million) and 700 jobs
  • Gross Value Added of arts and culture sector to the NE is £203 million


Sage Gateshead is an international music centre and renowned conference and event venue located in the North East of England. It is for artists, for audiences and for the North.

We are a charity and rely on the support of donors to ensure everyone in the North East community can experience the joy of music.

Every year we welcome more than two million visitors. More than 400 concerts featuring all kinds of local, regional and international music, take place all year round. Music-making and learning activity takes place not only in the building but across the region, with 190,000 people of all ages taking part in over 10,000 music classes and workshops.

The iconic building, designed by renowned architects Foster + Partners, is home to Royal Northern Sinfonia and is a place where emerging artists are nurtured through dedicated programmes and festivals.