With over 550 threatened, including Band on the Wall and Stoller Hall, #saveourvenues launched last month

The music industry has had to change its tune during lockdown. Gigs have gone virtual - viewed on TVs, streamed on computers, captured in Instastories - while artists and audiences are finding new ways to connect, from Zooming choirs to personalised music messages

Even in lockdown, music hasn’t lost its power to unite us. Yet many would agree that nothing can replace physical concerts and that music venues are the lifeblood of the industry.

That’s why Music Venue Trust (MVT) - a charity which supports 736 grassroots music venues in the UK - launched the #saveourvenues crisis campaign in April, after revealing that more than 556 venues were in danger of closing permanently due to the pandemic. In Manchester, these range from Stoller Hall at Chetham’s School of Music - home to world-class chamber music - to Band on the Wall, a cornerstone of the city’s music scene for the best part of a century.

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Band on the Wall has long been a cornerstone of Manchester’s musical heritage

By its third week (last week), #saveourvenues had raised over £1.5m in donations; resulting in 140 grassroots music venues being removed from ‘critical’ status and protected from imminent closure.

Alongside donations, this was aided by important interventions from public bodies such as The London Mayor’s Office, Creative Wales and Arts Council England. The work done by the MVT crisis intervention team in providing legal and planning advice, liaising with landlords and helping venues navigate through the complex bureaucratic process to access help has also been instrumental during the campaign. 

Many musicians have shown their support too, through both donations and live events - including virtual festivals such as Independent Music News Lockdown, Vive Le Rockdown, Colston Hall Presents and Liverpool Digital Music Festival. Over 150 happenings have already taken place, with many more lined up in the coming weeks.

However, while such progress is undoubtedly positive, MVT is keen to stress these 140 venues are still not protected permanently. The charity is calling for more music industry donations and governmental intervention to help secure their long-term future, particularly around the issue of the rent relief for grassroots music venue tenants. 

Mark Davyd, founder and CEO of MVT said: “The fact we have managed to remove 140 grassroots music venues off of our critical list in the last three weeks is, of course, a cause for celebration but we are not complacent as this is only a relatively short-term fix. Whilst the immediate threat of closure for these venues has been halted, they are still under real threat in the coming months - as are over 400 others. 

“This is a good start and we can’t emphasise how grateful we are to those music fans, music industry companies and public organisations who have supported the #saveourvenues campaign so far, but we cannot relax as we still have a mountain to climb to secure the long-term future of this sector. We still desperately need more music industry companies to step up and help with donations alongside real action from government specifically around rent relief, more financial help and clearer guidance.”

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The RIBA award-winning Stoller Hall is amongst many venues threatened by the impact of COVID-19

Former MP Tom Watson, now chair of industry umbrella group UK Music, has also been lobbying government for financial support. He told The Observer: “We don’t know when live shows will come back. It has to be health-led, but there isn’t great optimism in the sector that it will be very soon. (So) we would like to see landlords give grassroots music venues rent-free periods to help them cope.”

Watson estimates it would cost about £15m a month to subsidise rents for venues until they can reopen, hence the clear need for government intervention.

“If the government took action on rents,” Davyd added, “you could stop the live music infrastructure from collapsing. Once these venues close, they won’t come back. So how will you build the next Adele or Ed Sheeran?

“DCMS has earmarked £120m for the Festival of Britain in 2022, which is supposed to be taking place across the venues we represent. But that money could be used as an emergency fund now. (Without one), those venues won’t exist in 2022.” 

For more information on the #saveourvenues campaign, visit saveourvenues.co.uk

Music Venue Trust

Music Venue Trust (MVT) is a registered charity, created in January 2014 to protect, secure and improve the UK live music network by securing the long-term future of iconic grassroots music venues such as Hull Adelphi, Exeter Cavern, Southampton Joiners, The 100 Club, Band on the Wall, Tunbridge Wells Forum etc. These venues have played a crucial role in the development of British music over the last 40 years, nurturing local talent, providing a platform for artists to build their careers and develop their music and their performance skills.

MVT works to gain recognition of the essential role these venues fulfil, not only for artist development but also for the cultural and music industries, the economy and local communities. It aims to preserve and improve venues, making them more efficient and improving the experience for performers and audiences. Long-term it plans to acquire the freeholds of as many of these vital venues as possible.

MVT is a charity registered with the Charity Commission of England and Wales, registration no: 1159846.

Read more: The show must go on - How music is uniting us in lockdown

Also read: How you can enjoy Manchester’s arts scene at home