Music venues warn: “There’s no guarantee we’ll all see funding or re-open”

Music venues have spoken to NME about the need for public support to weather the storm of coronavirus closures

Grassroots music venues from across the UK have spoken out about the continued need for public support to ensure their survival, despite government funding providing a temporary lifeline for many.

Last weekend, the government announced the first 135 venues across England that will receive emergency grants from the £1.57billion Culture Recovery Fund. While this news is welcome among the music community and regarded as a huge “positive step”, around 400 others are not out of the woods yet – with many not eligible for the funding to help them weather the storm of being forced to close due to coronavirus restrictions. The #SaveOurVenues campaign remains very much active and in need of support.

Tunbridge Wells Forum are warning that they won’t know if they’ll receive any money until October – and even then, nothing is certain.


“The general public think that all of these venues have been saved,” the Forum’s booking manager Chris Pritchard told NME. “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.”

While the Forum was not eligible for the previous round of funding, Pritchard said he was concerned about how competitive it is for financial aid from here – despite “amazing and admirable” help from the Music Venue Trust.

“We’re really happy for those venues that did get that money – especially the newer and smaller ones,” Pritchard said. “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.

He continued: “People need to understand that it’s not a done deal and we’ll see quite a lot of venues disappear this year, unfortunately. Music Venue Trust are doing everything they can to save each and every one and that’s an amazing thing to see.”

However, Pritchard did advise others to find proactive temporary solutions outside of looking for donations from fans. “I would encourage all other music venues to think outside of the box in terms of ways to make money,” he said. “We suddenly went from being a music venue to a clothes store. I’ve been designing and putting out merchandise on a monthly basis and we’ll be launching a new range in October. We also set up a coffee shop outside of our building as we try to create revenue. We’re also setting up membership clubs with ticket discounts for when to reopen.


“We’ll be able to see ourselves through the next two or three months, but beyond that we need to see funding from the arts council.”

Mal Campbell is Booker and Promotions Manager at The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge – who just this week surpassed their £50,000 crowdfunding target to stay afloat for the coming months. While the Yorkshire venue were also not eligible for the recent funding dished out, Campbell said he was grateful for the help of the MVT as well as the people power and generosity shown by the community of music fans.

“This will mean that we can get into next year,” Campbell told NME of their plans for the money. “The vibe amongst venues is that the shows that we’ve booked and moved three times will hopefully be able to happen from late January onwards. We can get there without any redundancies, which will be a great achievement. Some of the money is also going to go towards making the venue more accessible.”

He continued: “People don’t usually get to lose something to realise how much they value it. Often it gets to the edge of a cliff then they rescue it. People have seen what a world without music venues look like, and unless drastic things happen then they can’t come back.”

Campbell said he had sympathy for the venues out there in immediate danger, especially those going through the “square peg round hole rigmarole” of applying for Arts Council funding. However, he remains confident that the live music circuit will be more treasured in the longterm.

“If we all come out of this, then people will inevitably value these spaces more than ever before – not just gig-goers, but the wider community, government and big businesses need to recognise what we add to culture,” he added. “I remember being at an MVT event a few years ago and Steve Lamacq said that with music venues disappearing and town centres becoming homogenised, we’re in danger of becoming a nation of commuters with nowhere to call home. You need places for communities to happen and it’s not going to happen in a Costa Coffee. Venues are where bands are formed and ideas happen.”

Rebecca Walker is general manager of The Leadmill in Sheffield – who this week enjoyed a raffle of local legend Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys’ stratocaster raising over £120,000. Still, the legendary gig space has a long way to go. Having recently been given the green light to re-open but with a reduced capacity from 900 down to 140, the venue are now planning comedy, drag and acoustic gigs to keep them ticking over.

“We’re also applying for Arts Council funding to subsidise putting on more expensive shows without the risk of losing money,” she said. “That pot of money is incredibly competitive and we don’t find out until late September if we’ve got it, so right now it’s a waiting game of trying to not lose as much money as possible.”

Admitting that the competitive bids for the cash will mean we “have to say goodbye to a lot of good businesses,” Walker said what was most important is that talented workers be protected.

“The Leadmill as a brand and an institution is going to be safe, but the staff members are integral and more significant to the venue than the venue itself, and they need to be retained,” she said. “Finding those staff again with the same level of work ethic, creativity and drive would be near impossible – especially ones who understand Sheffield and the industry.”

Walker added: “That will put the Leadmill and similar venues under risk because we’re not just a building – we’re the people within it. Venues need subsidising to protect them. Most other businesses can adapt. You can’t adapt a business model that’s based on cramming 900 people into a room. It is what it is.”

Jack Chapman and the crew at Sheffield's Leadmill. Supplied by Jack Chapman
Jack Chapman and the crew at Sheffield’s Leadmill. Supplied by Jack Chapman

Speaking to NME earlier this month, Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd echoed that many venues “still desperately need music fans” in order to survive.

“Basically, at the moment we still need to take all of the venues through to the end of September,” Davyd told NME. “We’ve had some who were not successful in acquiring the Emergency Grassroots Music Venue Fund, we have some who weren’t eligible, and the other problem we have is that not every grassroots music venue is going to get funded. People need to be realistic. That’s going to be a big problem.”

He continued: “Where you see that people have still got active #SaveOurVenues campaign, you can be certain that we are working with them to make them eligible for government funding.”

Last week saw Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, declare that performers no longer need to have “extra social distancing” on stage following the results of a new study. This comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson allowed for indoor gigs in the UK to return with social distancing measures in place, but the Music Venue Trust revealed that over two thirds of venues would be unable to do so.

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