Over the past year, a British music charity has helped raise more than £5 million to support struggling grassroots venues, including two in south west London.
The Music Venue Trust was set up in 2014 and acts to protect, secure and improve grassroots music venues and in partnership with Crowdfunder last year, set up a Save Our Venues campaign to support the live music industry during the pandemic.
Mark Davyd, Music Venue Trust CEO, said: “We need venues to survive and thrive so artists can produce the music that unites us for decades to come.
“But each of these venues is about more than just music. They are hubs of alternative culture, where you meet people, fall in love, find a style, find a career, get inspired, find the soundtrack to your life.
“Bouncing out the back of this crisis, I think we will see how these 14 months without music, without venues, has strengthened people’s attachment to them, and how it was perhaps a much needed reminder of why they matter so much.
“Just go. Go and see the band you don’t know and love yet. Take a chance on a Tuesday night to be with other people checking out new music. It’s all about people.”
Of a total of 42 grassroots music venues that appeared on the Red List last year, 35 have now been removed with many individual Crowdfunders recently surpassing fundraising targets.
SWL spoke to the Windmill in Brixton and the Alchemy in Croydon, two venues that are on the Red List, about their relationship with the Music Venue Trust, the ups and downs of the past year and the role of community in the process.
The Windmill, a venue The Times chief rock and pop critic, Will Hodgkinson, wrote a book about (Roof Dog: A Short History of The Windmill) and described as ‘the epicentre of the capital’s underground music scene’, recently exceeded its fundraising target of £95,000, with the grand total currently sitting at £97,090.
After finding themselves ineligible for the Arts Council Cultural Recovery Fund, the Windmill realised that public support was vital to keeping the venue afloat.
Tim Perry, the Windmill’s booker, said: “The Music Venue Trust has been so brilliant in helping fundraise.
“A lot of the campaign was driven by the artists who really wanted to help.
“We have always tried to treat the bands well and they’ve repaid us by saving the venue.”
With 1856 supporters, the red listed venue received donations from Windmill enthusiasts near and far and was hugely supported by the many bands and musicians who regularly play the venue.
The show had several thousand viewers and was hosted on digital music platform Bandcamp.
The online outreach attracted an audience from outside the UK and helped launch the Windmill on the international map.
The venue decided to donate half the proceeds to Brixton Soup Kitchen, a Brixton-based charity that provides food, drink and social spaces for the homeless.
Tim said: “I think a venue should play its role in charity, but after years working with big charities we thought it was a bit like all this work that we’ve done has gone to pay for posters for some marketing person, so why not give something direct to the community.
“But it’s not over because although things went well and we got our bills covered, we don’t know if the roadmap is going to stick. We don’t know what the capacities or extra charges and costs will be and whether people will have any money because a lot of people are so skint.
“It’s been a really tough and annoying year but hopefully people know we’re stronger together.”
Mark added: “The Windmill is a good example of what the Save Our Venues campaign sought to address, that the safety net that was established wasn’t going to be able to catch every venue and additional support would be needed to ensure every venue could access the help they needed.”
The Windmill is now back open for drinks and you can check out their latest event listings here.
The Alchemy in Croydon is a grassroots live music venue, nightclub and Caribbean restaurant popular with south London’s Black community.
Their red-listed Crowdfunder has raised £20,235 but Deborah Ballard, the Alchemy’s manager, said £20,000 of this came directly from the Music Venue Trust.
Deborah pointed out the vital importance of the venue to Croydon’s Black community and as a place that breaks down much of the social stigma attached to Croydon.
She said: “The sort of venue the Alchemy is, and with our clientele, I didn’t think we’ll get a lot of support in the way that more middle-class trendy venues would from a Crowdfunding campaign.
“The Music Venue Trust has been fantastic, without their help we probably wouldn’t be reopening this June.
“We fill a void. We’re doing things on a weekly basis. Birthday parties, christenings and weddings. So we have all that going on as well as our live music and club nights.
“A lot of people don’t like Croydon but we’ve established a reputation where it’s quite okay to come into Alchemy and do what you’re doing and go away again.”
Like countless other venues, the Alchemy hosted a number of live streamed music events to help raise money.
British lovers rock musician Carroll Thompson performed at Christmas, an event that reached over a million views.
Deborah said that although the event didn’t help much financially, it pushed the Alchemy out to an audience beyond the local community and hopefully attracted more customers.
But as Boris Johnson’s road map progresses and restrictions begin to ease, Deborah worries about the extra costs that new rules and regulations will incur.
She said: “I think we’ll scrape through, hopefully we will. I think once we can reopen we’ll be alright. It’s going to be hard for the first six months to a year because we’ll be spending a lot of time sorting out outstanding bills.
“Thank you very very very much to the Music Venue Trust – they have been fantastic support and anybody else that has shown interest and come down to the Alchemy!”
The Alchemy is open for takeaways and you can check out their latest event listings here.
Feature image credit: Music Venue Trust