The Music Venue Trust has declared a state of red alert and are rallying for public support as hundreds of venues still face permanent closure in the face of coronavirus restrictions.
While the recipients of the government’s £1.57 billion Cultural Recovery Fund will be announced between October 5 and October 12 — and final decisions on funding for grassroots music venues in England, Scotland and Wales confirmed by October 16 — the MVT has declared the situation ‘critical’ today (September 30), warning that the fate of hundreds of venues is now hanging in the balance. Only a fraction of the venues in need are expected to receive funding, with industry bosses claiming that the government has no plan B.
“After six months of struggling to survive, grassroots music venues now face a two-week period of huge uncertainty in which their future will be decided by the outcome of a single government funding announcement,” MVT CEO Mark Davyd told NME. “The Government has put all its eggs in one basket and has no back-up plan to prevent the complete collapse of this entire cultural sector, placing at risk over 200,000 jobs and billions of pounds of economic activity.”
After UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced details of the government’s new Winter Economy Plan for the next six months last week as the furlough scheme comes to an end, the music industry hit back for its lack of support for the many musicians, self-employed and the staff within venues that have been forced to close due to COVID-19.
The MVT claim that “this was compounded during a meeting hosted by The Department of Culture, Media & Sport when numerous enquiries from MPs asking what the government was going to do to prevent the collapse of the live music industry was answered by stock answers stating that the Cultural Recovery Fund was ‘being made available'”.
Beverley Whitrick, Strategic Director of MVT, said: “Music Venue Trust is extremely concerned that the situation has become Schrodinger’s fund; hardly anyone has received any significant support from the Cultural Recovery Fund yet, but everyone is going to be saved by it. This is not a coherent strategy; the government does not even control the distribution of the funding they have made available and on which their entire strategy for the UK live music sector now rests”.
With today seeing a global day of action for the #WeMakeEvents and #LetTheMusicPlay campaigns — calling for more to be done to help people make ends meets until live music is allowed to return — the MVT is now calling on the wider music industry, music fans and local communities to redouble their efforts to prevent the permanent closure of grassroots music venues in the UK by getting directly involved in the #SaveOurVenues campaign through fundraising, letter writing to local councils and MPs, social media support and more.
Davyd continued: “Venues, artists, audiences and communities have done everything they can to support the #SaveOurVenues campaign, which has helped hundreds of grassroots music venues to survive to this point. Music Venue Trust has offered extraordinary support to enable grassroots music venues to make strong, evidenced applications to the Cultural Recovery Fund. The entire government focus on what can be achieved by that single fund will reach its conclusion between October 5 and October 16 when the results of those applications are announced.
“Any venue that is not successful, or any venue that is ineligible, will still be unable to open, will still have to pay rent and will still have no possible income sources from the day those decisions are announced until the day they are finally able to open. We need everyone who cares about the future of grassroots music venues to take note of these decisions as they are made and if necessary to take direct action to save any venue that is unsuccessful.”
He added: “It’s up to us – the government may very well fail to save our venues but we as individuals can still fight for their survival.”
Music Venue Trust will be announcing the funding decisions as they are made via their social media channels and the media, and will provide a list of both successful and unsuccessful venues so that can support efforts be directed to where they are most needed from October 5.
Beverley Whitrick added: “We don’t know what the outcome here will be; worryingly, neither does the government despite their singular reliance upon this funding to protect access to culture across hundreds of communities. But we do know that the Save Our Venues campaign, with the incredible support it has received, has got the grassroots sector to this stage with minimum losses. That campaign may now need to be stepped up.
“Grassroots music venues are at Red Alert status and hundreds are confronted by the possibility of imminent decisions which will result in their permanent closure. Our whole grassroots community sector will need to take part in decisive, direct action if we are to ensure we reopen every venue safely.”
“The general public think that all of these venues have been saved,” Tunbridge Wells Forum booking manager Chris Pritchard told NME last month. “The government’s media perspective probably wants it to look like that because they definitely have helped, but they’ve not found a secure solution for it. They’ve just put a plaster on it. Some have just got some emergency funding to get them through to the end of September, but then they’ll be in the same predicament they’re in now in October.”
He continued: “We’ve got 27 years of history where some have got seven months. We’re in a more fortunate place where we have that community around us, but we need everyone to know that nothing is guaranteed. There’s no guarantee that venues will see funding, and even then there’s no guarantee that funding will keep venues open.
“People need to understand that it’s not a done deal and we’ll see quite a lot of venues disappear this year, unfortunately.”
The live music sector remains in danger with two thirds of the UK’s grassroots music venues still unable to go ahead with socially distanced gigs and hundreds still fighting for funding in a bid to survive COVID closures.
With early April 2021 earmarked as the earliest date that full capacity gigs might be able to return, a number of musicians, crew, venues and industry bosses have warned of bankruptcies and catastrophic damage to the live music sector unless support is provided to mothball the gig sector until it is safe to put shows on.