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Oxford’s Cellar venue closes following two-year battle to stay open

By | Published on Wednesday 13 March 2019

The Cellar in Oxford

Following a hard-fought battle to continue operating as a live music venue, The Cellar in Oxford has announced that it hosted its final show on Saturday. It then officially ceased operations on Monday.

The venue was saved from closure in 2017 after a successful campaign pressuring its landlords to drop plans to convert the basement space it occupies into a retail unit. But it then suffered a further blow last year, when new fire regulations forced its capacity to be cut from 150 to 60, which meant the space was no longer commercially viable.

A crowdfunding campaign was then organised which raised nearly £100,000 in just five weeks, with plans to build a new fire escape that would allow the venue’s capacity to increase to 200, which it was hoped would keep things going. However, the logistics of that building work and ongoing rent negotiations have finally forced the Hopkins family, who have run the venue for more than 40 years, to shut the operation down.

“After months of negotiations, we would have loved to have been able to take the landlord’s final rent offer, but it came too late”, the venue’s manager Tim Hopkins says in a statement. “What’s more, even with a vaguely do-able rent agreed, there were no guarantees on the time frame of the building work, which required access to the shop above and various structural considerations. Essentially, the whole process took far longer than we were expecting, and we simply could not keep operating under these conditions”.

He then thanks the landlords for “recognising the cultural importance of the venue” and says that they “hope that the space, in some shape or form, will continue as a live music venue”.

Noting the bigger picture, Hopkins adds: “This is a sad time for Oxford’s city centre, with so many vacant shops and bars all around us, and we hope that our closure will be noted as part of the situation that is eroding our cultural communities. We have tried hard to save our beloved venue, but hopefully its closure will fuel further discussion between landlords and the council to stem further destruction of our beloved city. If given the opportunity, our dream for the future would be to turn The Cellar into a community interest company, a social enterprise whereby any profits would be ploughed back into the company”.

Given the proposed building work will now not go ahead, monies raised via the crowdfunding campaign will be returned. Rewards that were yet to be created – such as t-shirts and the inclusion of supporters’ names on a wall inside the venue – will not now be available. However, The Cellar has said that people who handed over money in return for various rewards donated by bands, record labels and festivals can still have them if they donate the same amount to the Music Venue Trust.

Another part of the Cellar crowdfunder was a raffle to win a snare drum previously owned by Radiohead’s Phil Selway. This has now been donated to MVT for its own crowdfunder. Hopkins says this is in recognition of the “valuable advice and guidance” MVT has provided as the venue fought to stay open, without which, he says, “we certainly wouldn’t have come this far”.

In return for a £20 donation, which will go towards providing support and advice to other grassroots venues, you too can enter the new draw to win Selway’s drum. Find out more here.