Music Venue Trust's fan-funded freeholds aim to protect venues

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A crowd of people cheering in a music venueImage source, The Hairy Dog, Derby
Image caption,
The Hairy Dog in Derby is one of nine venues across the UK which the MVT plans to purchase

A plan to let fans invest in the future of live music by funding freehold purchases will give venues "long-term security", a charity has said.

The Music Venue Trust (MVT) said the scheme would let "ethical investors and music fans" protect threatened venues.

The venture will begin with the purchase of sites in Preston, Hull, Atherton, Derby, Bideford, Swansea, Newport, Glasgow and Darwen.

MVT's Mark Dayvd said "something radical" was needed to save live music.

He said the Music Venue Properties scheme was the "most ambitious initiative" MVT had ever undertaken, but was essential as the UK had "lost over a third of our venues in the last 20 years", while more than 90% of those left had "only 18 months left on their tenancies".

"The long-term security and prosperity of grassroots music venues depends almost entirely on one thing - ownership," he said.

"Too many have been at the mercy of some commercial landlords whose motivations revolve primarily around profit.

"We are at the cliff edge and could see the decimation of our sector if we don't do something radical about it."

'Bright and successful'

A pilot scheme, which aims to raise an initial £3.5m, will see community shares issued to fund MVT's purchase of nine venues - The Ferret in Preston, Atherton's The Snug, Le Public Space in Newport, Glasgow's The Glad Cafe, Derby's The Hairy Dog, Sunbird Records in Darwen, Hull's The Polar Bear, The Palladium in Bideford and Swansea's The Bunkhouse - by the end of 2022.

The Snug's event manager Ben Morgan said to have "a landlord and partner we know has our interests at heart will mean we can push our limits further".

He said the current landlord wanted to sell the building which houses the venue, which "risks it being purchased by people with no interest in the arts".

He added that knowing MVT would take charge "feels like a lot of weight has been lifted off our shoulders".

Image source, The Snug Coffee House, Atherton
Image caption,
The Snug's event manager said to have a landlord "we know has our interests at heart" was a relief

Polar Bear Music Club's promoter Daniel Mawer said the scheme was vital, as without it, the venue might have closed down by August.

He said the staff could now "build an exciting environment for our clientele to include themselves in, without having to prioritise on our survival as a music venue as much as we currently do".

The Palladium's owner Ben Nigh said the scheme would mean "a massive amount" to the sort of venue that was fundamental in supporting new talent.

"Artists can't go from playing in their bedroom to playing the 02," he said.

"They have to have a stepping stone to give them a platform and that's why you need venues like ours."

Sunbird Records' Damien Coughlin agreed that the plan would help those places where people can "get together and enjoy different musical events".

"We feel very confident that with this scheme, the venue will have a bright and successful future in bringing music to the community," he added.


Mark Savage, BBC Music Correspondent

Small music venues operate on a knife edge.

Profits are small, noise abatement orders and property developments threaten their existence, and landlords have been known to suddenly demand rent increases of up to 400%.

Since the start of the Covid crisis, the sector has racked up £90m of debt, the majority of which came from payments demanded by commercial landlords.

But venues have been squeezed for years.

Take Ed Sheeran as an example. Between 2006 and 2011, he slowly built a fanbase by playing 366 shows at grassroots venues. Since then, 150 of those concert halls have been forced to close.

The Music Venue Trust wants that to stop. During the pandemic, it raised money to help venues pay their bills, often just in the nick of time - last year, the owner of Dover's The Booking Hall told me he was "painting the venue, ready to hand the keys back, when the money came through".

Now, the MVT is offering fans the opportunity to invest in their local concert halls - allowing them to thrive without the spectre of rent increases.

If it works, the scheme will protect the future of the UK's live music scene, which is vital if we want to find the next Ed Sheeran or Adele or Radiohead.

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