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The Social raises funds needed to stay open, while Music Venue Trust hits out at landlords of the now closed Cellar

By | Published on Thursday 21 March 2019

The Social

London music venue The Social has passed its crowdfunding target, eight days after announcing that it had two weeks to raise £95,000 or it would be forced to close down.

As the venue reached its 20th anniversary, management their announced that the operator of a cocktail and wine bar chain had made an offer to the leaseholders of the building where The Social is situated to take over its space. With the venue already under pressure from rising rents, the crowdfunding campaign was launched in order to buy a controlling stake in the lease, thus securing its future.

Saying that the campaign had received a “genuinely staggering response”, the venue’s managers told nearly 1500 backers: “The £95,000 was to help take the bar off the market and secure a stake in the lease which would give us a share of the business. Your incredibly generous pledges have stopped any potential sale and given us breathing space”.

The funding goal has now been extended to £150,000, with a deadline now set for mid-April. If this new target is reached, say the venue’s owners, the extra funds will be used to “do some essential bar improvements and give us time to effectively plan how to finance the next 20 years of The Social”.

Outside the online campaign, there will also be a number of fundraising events at the venue, starting with a Fatboy Slim DJ set this Saturday.

Elsewhere in grassroots venue news, the Music Venue Trust has hit out at a statement made by the charity group that owns the building that housed, until last week, The Cellar in Oxford. Going all Theresa May in distancing itself from recent disappointing developments, the St Michael’s And All Saints’ Charities claimed to have bent over backwards to help the Hopkins family, who operated The Cellar venue for 40 years.

“At the forefront of the minds of the Charities is the music scene in Oxford”, it said in a statement to the Oxford Mail. “To this end we have made considerable changes to our plans for the building, at a cost to us and our beneficiaries, to enable the premises to continue to be used as a music venue. On top of that we have offered to pay for the works required to make the premises safe, notwithstanding these were works for which the tenant was responsible. The funds raised through crowdfunding could then have been used for other much needed improvements to the venue”.

Insisting that it had made “generous concessions”, the charity said that it could not then offer a deal on rent at a cost that the Hopkins family felt was affordable.

“Now that The Cellar has made the decision to close its doors, we are looking to find an alternative and quality tenant to carry on the much loved music scene in Oxford”, the landlords went on. “Keen interest has been expressed by other parties wishing to run a music venue and we hope that before long, music will once again return to the Cellar, in safety”.

The safety issues referenced in the charity’s statement relate to fire officers insisting that a better fire escape was required and that the venue’s capacity had to be cut until that was installed. The successful crowdfunding campaign referenced would have paid for the new fire escape.

The capacity cut was one of various challenges the Hopkins family faced in keeping The Cellar open. Although before that, the main problem was attempts by St Michael’s And All Saints’ Charities to stop the space being used as a music venue entirely. Something noted by the Music Venue Trust in its response to the charity’s statement.

“The final outcome of two years of campaigning by local people is, whatever intent the landlord stated they had, that the existing venue – run by a much admired family, powered by a passion and commitment to the local scene – has been lost”, says MVT. “The landlords state that they want to be ‘champions of live music in the city’, but put simply they have lost a tenant who was keenly committed to that cause and are now, apparently, seeking to replace them with another tenant to do the exact same thing”.

Doubting the charity’s apparent confidence that a new music venue operator could be found quite so easily, the organisation went on: “If the rent was not affordable by Tim and his family, who have given years of their lives and thousands of pounds of their own money to supporting Oxford’s music scene, it is not going to be affordable to any other operator who is prepared to take the venue on”.

Saying that it will nevertheless “support any one who is able to” keep the property going as a music venue, MVT noted that “two years ago the landlord was happy to close this venue to try to maximise its profit”, saying that “the pursuit of maximum profit” still appeared to be its goal.

“Until landlords such as this are made to appreciate that they are part of an entire community and that not every square inch of land can be maximised for profit without destroying the heart and soul of our cities, we are going to go on seeing venues across the land closed down”, it concluded. “In this particular case, the landlord is a charity. If even charities are so driven by a profit motive that they are unable to appreciate their duties and obligations to local communities, then we are in a very sad and sorry place”.

In its report on the live music industry earlier this week, the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media And Sport Select Committee warned that an “unprecedented” number of grassroots venue closures present a “real threat that without access to spaces to hone their live craft, the next generation of musicians will struggle to maintain the UK’s position at the forefront of the industry”. Particularly if touring in Europe becomes more difficult for emerging artists if the UK leaves the EU.

The committee advised the government to review how recent business rates increases are affecting small venues, and to also consider offering new tax relief or extend existing programmes.