Prime minister Boris Johnson
Prime minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons delivering his roadmap out of lockdown.

Image: parliament.tv

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson detailed key dates when some of the current restrictions in England can be eased.

From Monday, April 12, the ‘step two’ phase means non-essential retail – a category that during all lockdowns in England thus far has included art and antiques dealers, centres, auction houses and non-essential markets – will be able to reopen premises to the public, as will public libraries.

‘Step three’ will come at least five weeks later, on May 17 at the earliest, with most outdoor social contact rules lifted, as well as limited mixing indoors.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) confirmed to ATG that “antique fairs held in conference centres or similar settings are classified as business events, and we seek to reopen these in step three, subject to a capacity cap”.

The cap on numbers indoors is 1000 people or 50% of a venue’s capacity, whichever is lower, and for outdoor events it is a capacity of either 50% or 4000 people, whichever is lower.

Outdoor openings

Outdoor markets are being planned. Will Thomas at fair organiser IACF said: “It is good news we can operate from April and we have moved our Newark date back a week.”

New dates are April 15 for Newark Antiques & Collectors Market, April 20 for IACF Ardingly and April 26 for Runway Monday at Newark.

Ed Cruttenden of event organiser Sunbury Antiques said: “Retail is definitely not dead, just in hibernation. We look forward to welcoming everyone back to our fairs safely very soon.

“We are awaiting clarification on whether we can hold events at Kempton, Sandown and Wimbledon from April or May and will confirm our dates as soon as possible.”

Freya Simms, chief executive at dealer association LAPADA, said the government roadmap promotes a “careful and considered approach and avoids businesses having to close their doors once again, so we fully support a plan that is incremental but irreversible”.

She added: “Along with the reopening, it is important that the government maintains financial support to provide vital working capital by continuing the current business rates relief to ease the economic impact.”

Exhibitions optimism

Dealers have had to cope with ever-changing restrictions up to now.

Freya Mitton has reorganised her exhibition for the third time. Modern British Art will now be held at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, with the provisional dates of April 19-May 1.

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Among the events that can take place in April is dealer Freya Mitton’s Modern British Art exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath. Among the pictures for sale is this John Armstrong (1893- 1973) Still Life with Onions and a Wicker Basket (signed and dated ’57) with a price of £5800.

Mitton said: “The gallery can open as commercial space in April. I am cautiously optimistic that it will take place this time with vaccines in place and a more cautious approach by government.

“People will be looking for something to visit and the exhibition won’t be too crowded as it is over a two-week period so visits can be spread out over the duration.”

Some events will have to reschedule. The Pet worth Park Antiques & Fine Art Fair was planned for May 7-9. However, as hotels and large events cannot operate until after May 17, it will now be held later. Organiser Ingrid Nilson is discussing options with venue owner the National Trust.

Revised auctions dates

Although most auction houses continued to hold sales online during lockdown, others postponed.

Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury is among those that have announced a revised calendar for the year. Auctions will restart from April 20 with Furniture, Works of Art & Clocks on April 20-21, Silver & Objects of Vertu on April 27-28 and Jewellery on April 29.

John Axford, W&W chairman, said: “With a little rejigging in places, we have effectively moved our calendar on by three months and combined some sale dates so that several of our departments will be having large two-day auctions. As in 2020 we will also continue to hold auctions throughout August until we have caught up with the backlog.”

Helen Carless, chairman and managing director at Lawrences of Crewkerne, said the auction house’s 2500-lot three-day Fine Art sale starting on April 20 is already online and will be available for viewing in person while “maintaining the strict social distancing and PPE measures that have been in place throughout the pandemic”.

One day…

By June the prime minister hopes that ‘step four’ will be introduced in England, with the end of restrictions on social contact from June 21.

The government will follow the reopening plan only if four criteria are met at each stage.

Rules are different in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the government expects a phased re-opening of non-essential retail and hospitality from the last week of April.

Check the relevant government websites for more details.