Leeds music venues rely on fundraising as Covid-19 pandemic continues to take its toll

Music venues in Leeds are pinning their hopes of survival on fundraising activities as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to take its toll on the struggling industry, leaving the fate of many across the city hanging in the balance.

By Joanna Wardill
Sunday, 4th October 2020, 4:45 pm

Faced with strict social distancing measures, the 10pm curfew and now the increased lockdown restrictions across Leeds advising against two households mixing, the city’s music scene is in the midst of a desperate battle to safeguard its future.

Many are anxiously awaiting news over their bids for funding from the Government’s much-touted £1.57bn Cultural Recovery Fund - an announcement which was due on Monday October 5 but has now been delayed by a week, in a bitter blow to those businesses currently sitting on a knife edge.

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Nick Simcock, events manager at Oporto in Leeds

Campaigners at the Music Venue Trust (MVT), a charity which supports grassroots music venues, say the current situation is “critical” and now more than ever, venues are having to rely on music fans and local communities to show their support.

It launched a #SaveOurVenues campaign earlier this year, for the public to pledge cash to venues through the Crowdfunder platform - but stark figures for Leeds show this has so far been falling woefully short in generating the amount needed for many to remain viable.

Leeds punk and metal venue Boom, on Millwright Street, has raised £2,625 of its £10,000 #SaveOurVenues appeal - not even enough to cover a month’s rent, according to one of its partners Chris Flynn.

He told the Yorkshire Evening Post he believes they have four weeks left to raise enough cash before tough decisions are made about Boom’s future.

Boom, in Leeds, where the business model relies on full-capacity live music so has forced to remain closed during the pandemic.

“We’re currently fundraising because we’re not able to open at all. It would not be viable for us to open as [the restrictions] would give us a capacity of around 10. It just wouldn’t work for us here.”

Having missed out on an earlier round of Government funding, Boom has also been told that it is not eligible to apply for the latest Cultural Recovery cash - leaving it in a dire financial situation.

“We were really happy when they announced the £1.57bn but it’s just been a struggle. We’re just trying to fundraise ourselves and do bits and pieces.”

As well as the crowdfunding campaign, Boom has launched an online subscription service, hosted recording sessions for bands and launched a merchandise-selling operation as ways to generate income but Chris says time is running out.

“We’ve probably got four weeks to turn around some stuff.

“The ban on commercial evictions ended in September and we are behind on our rent. So the main thing is to fundraise to make sure we have enough money to pay the rent.

“There are three of us on the main management team who are trying so hard - extra hours are going in, staff are volunteering hours. It’s around the clock just trying to get through.”

Popular Leeds bar Oporto also set up a #SaveOurVenues crowdfunder and has so far raised just £3,860 of its £10,000 target.

Nick Simcock, events manager at the Call Lane venue, said once lockdown was lifted their attention switched from the Crowdfunder to planning to steam live music online but the reality of the new restrictions quickly made that untenable.

With an average cost to host a gig of around £200, the venue would be facing a £1,000 a week bill, alongside a marked reduction in income.

“It’s impossible to make ends meet doing it,” said Nick.

“When income is stripped at the moment due to earlier closing, reduced capacities, extra staff and extra cleaning, it’s just not a financial decision we can take. As much as we would like to put music on - we’ve been around for over 20 years - it would be suicide for the venue. We would drive ourselves bankrupt before Christmas.”

He added: “Crowdfunding was paused to a certain extent because we were reopening and gearing up to this new form [of live music] but it looks highly likely that we need to do it again.”

Oporto is among the venues waiting to hear if they have been successful - and to what extent - in the new Government funding round.

But Nick said: “For a lot of places, if they don’t get the result they are hoping for with that they will be crowdfunding or doing anything they can do, to be able to try to achieve some sort of live music again in the city.”

The Music Venue Trust has warned that even when the funding announcement comes, venues will face one of four scenarios.

First would be the positive outcome of a venue receiving what they applied for and it being enough to cover costs until restrictions are lifted.

A second scenario, however, would be that the amount applied for will actually now not be enough to survive - given applications were submitted before the 10pm curfew and local lockdown restrictions were brought in.

A third scenario, according to the MVT, is that the £1.57bn could be spread so thinly, venues will only receive partial grants.

And finally, the fourth possibility could be that an application is simply unsuccessful.

The MVT points out that for scenarios two, three and four there is no plan B.

Mark Davyd, its co-founder and CEO, said: “The Government has put all its eggs in one basket and has no backup plan to prevent the complete collapse of this entire cultural sector, placing at risk over 200,000 jobs and billions of pounds of economic activity.”

He called on "everyone who cares about the future of grassroots music venues" to take note of the Government funding announcements and "if necessary to take direct action to save any venue that is unsuccessful", adding: "It's up to us - the Government may very well fail to save our venues but we as individuals can still fight for their survival."

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Thank you

Laura Collins