Coronavirus: Supporters rally to save live music venues

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image copyrightNEIL McCARTY
image captionMusician Tom Grennan regularly played Esquires as his career took off

Supporters of a live music venue battling closure during the coronavirus lockdown have raised more than £30,000 in 24 hours to save it.

Hundreds of people stepped up to pledge support for Bedford Esquires after it was forced to close on 20 March.

The venue is one of dozens that have turned to crowdfunding websites for survival during the ongoing pandemic.

Owner Gareth Barber said he was "shocked, overwhelmed and a little bit emotional" at the response.

A "Save our Venues" campaign by the Music Venue Trust has been launched nationally to help the grassroots live music scene weather the outbreak.

image copyrightNEIL McCARTY
image captionSinger Alfie Templeman plays Bedford Esquires

Esquires, which promotes musicians and bands around Bedford, had been preparing to celebrate its 30th birthday this summer with a host of events.

The original fundraising aim - £20,000 - was pledged within three hours of the site going live at 15:00 BST on Monday, Mr Barber said.

He has had to furlough 15 members of staff and said a number of freelance engineers and workers had lost out because of the lockdown restrictions.

"Independent venues like ours get no help from the government or the Arts Council - they're run by people who are passionate about music and supporting local talent," he said.

"Memories are made here, people grow up remembering that great gig they went to - it shapes them."

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image captionA packed Bedford Esquires hears Soft Cell frontman Marc Almond

The campaign has garnished the support of local musician Tom Grennan, and Bedford band Don Broco, who regularly played Esquires as their careers took off.

Money has been raised by pledges for VIP entry and merchandise - and the naming of the club's downstairs space.

A "Bedford Isn't [expletive]" T-shirt, designed about "small-minded people who complain about the town but do nothing about it", has been a merchandising hit, Mr Barber added.

"This is a small town and a small venue that often punches above its weight," he said.

"This situation has created so much uncertainty. But this goes to show what important community spaces they are."

The BBC has found struggling pubs and restaurants are increasingly turning to crowdfunding websites to stay afloat.

The Smokehouse, in Ipswich, was forced to close on 16 March because of social distancing measures.

Joe Bailey, who runs the venue, said: "Financially, the cancellation of shows not only means a loss of income for our bands and promoters but also the loss of guaranteed income for our freelance staff including sound engineers, lighting operators, bar staff and administrators.

"These are difficult times across the whole industry, for venues, artists and promoters."

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