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Music Venue Trust pushes for change to venue ownership

Music Venue Trust (MVT) has created a new not-for-profit entity to make “major changes” to the current issues grassroots live music venues face with private landlords.

In an email to its members, the association detailed work it has been doing on a project around community ownership, with the not-for-profit looking to acquire freeholds of premises.

It also said it will become a “benevolent landlord that actually wants venue operators as tenants,” and will invest in premises and work with tenants to improve facilities.

The move comes after The Woolpack Live in Doncaster announced its closure last week, after the building in which it was housed was sold.

MVT said in a statement following the closure: “The loss of this building is a reminder to the music industry, the government, and the cultural sector that the issue of ownership remains the most significant cause of grassroots music venue closures. It isn’t new, we have been discussing it with those stakeholders for six years. This crisis is simply magnifying the problem so we can see it very clearly.

“Ninety three per cent of grassroots music venue operators are tenants. They rent the buildings we need for live music from landlords who, very often, don’t share our ambition for live music to thrive in our local communities. Those landlords aren’t invested in developing new talent, in communities gathering, in the space needed for artists and audiences to come together to celebrate music.

“No other cultural sector in the UK is owned in this way. The UK is also the country in the world suffering the highest number of permanent closures of its music venues; everywhere has challenges, ours are magnified and amplified five-fold by the issue of ownership.”

MVT said through this new project that it hopes to support venue operators by working to remove “egregious demands and bad practices.”

It said: “This project would significantly improve the resilience of the sector by establishing a protected lease status for music venues which encourages creative practice – if a venue operator can run a great venue, they will have security of tenancy for as long as they can use it.”

MVT will look to improve the retention of income within the creative economy by reducing rent for venue operators and increase landlord investment into building improvements.

It also mentioned a new type of lease where a venue operator is rewarded for the programme they create rather than being punished for not making enough profit.

“We are now actively looking to run a pilot scheme with a handful of venues whose freehold is privately owned,” MVT said in the email to members. “This might be by an individual, a company, a pubco; any ownership model where the venue is paying commercial rent to someone who isn’t interested in music happening in the space, anywhere where the landlord just wants their money.

“We are especially interested in speaking to venues where the landlord has discussed the possibility of a sale previously, or has been provoked to consider a sale because of Covid.”

MVT has urged venue operators who are currently paying rent to any landlord and might be interested in being brought into the new protected status. To be included in the venues MVT is considering for this project, it is requesting information about the venue’s current landlord, value of freehold (if known) and its current rent.

Earlier this week, MVT announced it has saved 13 out of the 30 grassroots music venues (GMVs) on its Save Our Venue Red List from immediate threat. Strange Brew in Bristol, Waterloo Bar in Blackpool and Hootenanny in Inverness are among those venues to be taken off the ‘red list,’ which is made up of those venues at imminent danger of permanent closure due to COVID-19.