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Coronavirus: Hackney’s music venues face “catastrophe” without targeted government support

PUBLISHED: 12:23 18 May 2020 | UPDATED: 12:23 18 May 2020

More than 30 venues across Hackney could close due to a lack of government support during the Covid-19 crisis. Picture: Paper Dress Vintage

More than 30 venues across Hackney could close due to a lack of government support during the Covid-19 crisis. Picture: Paper Dress Vintage

Paper Dress Vintage

Many “much-loved” grassroots music venues in Hackney are facing permanent closure without increased government support during the coronavirus lockdown.

The Jago in Dalston is one of the venues worried about its uncertain future. Picture: The JagoThe Jago in Dalston is one of the venues worried about its uncertain future. Picture: The Jago

Music Venue Trust (MVT) says at least 30 independent music venues across the borough are facing incredible financial hardship which could see them going under in the next few months.

Despite no longer turning a profit some are still paying rent and many not eligible for a government loan because London rateable values often exceed the threshold of £51,000.

Kwame Otiende, owner of the Jago in Dalston, see’s a bleak future ahead.

He told the Gazette: [The effect has been] catastrophic. It’s hard to imagine so much could collapse for us so quickly.”

Independent venues are vital to the music industry as they give emerging artists spaces to hone their craft and start their careers. Picture: Zig CriscuoloIndependent venues are vital to the music industry as they give emerging artists spaces to hone their craft and start their careers. Picture: Zig Criscuolo

The Jago is one of 30 venues which have signed up to Music Venue Trust’s Save Our Venues campaign.

The campaign launched in response to the hundreds of venues under economic threat in the UK. It’s helping venues share their stories of hardship and has raised over £1 million for the sector so far.

“This campaign is so important because it allows us to be heard, it’s so reassuring to have a voice, especially in this industry. We’re one of the industries that have been hit the hardest, as if the voice of grass roots venues hasn’t struggled enough,” said Kwame.

Despite high rateable values many Hackney venues operate on razor thin margins and pay expensive rents.

Steve Dix, Owner of Paper Dress Vintage on Mare Street, said: “Without further government support and crowdfunding activity it’s hard to see how us and many venues up and down the country will survive this crisis.

“It’s absolutely crucial the government provides further targeted support for the grassroots music venues sector. We were fortunate to fall into the category of the initial government grant which was a huge relief and took the immediate pressure off, however as every week of closure goes by that grant money is dwindling.”

Still, venues continue to do whatever they can to stay afloat. The Vortex Jazz club in Dalston has had musician’s stream gigs from home and offered archival footage to isolating concert-goers. It’s usual programme of 350 plus live shows a year will likely not be possible for some time.

The club’s director Oliver Weindling said: “We are aware, once we can reopen, it’ll be impossible to have the same capacity for quite a while and we won’t be able to have larger line-ups on stage. We’ve had to look at ways to try and adapt.

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“In addition, we have some non-UK musicians who regularly perform at the club. If there’s a quarantine for visiting artists, then we shall suffer in terms of some of the gigs that we put on.”

The venue has received emergency funding and raised money through the MVT campaign. It’s confident it will survive the coming months but accepts, when it reopens, any profits generated will be much lower than before the lockdown.

MVT London Coordinator Sam Jones says the charity aims to save every venue at risk.

He told the Gazette: “Grassroots independent venues are at the heart of Hackney. It’s going to be quite weird once restrictions are lifted and there’s this massive gaping hole where culture used to be.

“There’s a real underlying spirit in Hackney. Venues will find a way to continue to showcase amazing music put out and birthed in the borough - nobody wants to be left with only the O2s of this world.

“But the government needs to intervene and be as innovative, if not more so, than the entrepreneurs of Hackney.”

Sam says the venues the campaign supports are a vital facet of the music industry and give artists spaces to start their careers and hone their craft.

Venues like Chats Palace in Homerton have also signed up to the campaign.

Having been a grassroots venue since 1976 it has seen many award winning artists and musicians start out there such as Plan B, Cornershop and Fun-Da-Mental.

Paula Van Hagen, Director of Chats Palace said: “The future looks very tough. Hackney has its fair share of challenges but [also] the most incredible community spirit. If you live or work in Hackney then you know this is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together and are actively engaged in making their community a better, fairer place to live.

“We have 40 year’s worth of community support and local people invested in our venue but we still need the weight of MVT to generate a campaign that can bring in enough support to save us as well as all Hackney’s other music venues.”

Artists are encouraged to choose a venue that’s currently in crisis from an interactive map and dropdown menu, which can be found at www.saveourvenues.co.uk. They are then given the tools and guidance to perform an ‘at home’ gig in support of their chosen venue.

Each venue will have their own crowd funding page with a clear target of the funds it needs to raise to stay afloat throughout this difficult period.

Once a target is reached any excess revenue will go to the central #saveourvenues fund to help the wider grassroots music venue community.

For more information on the Music Venue Trust click here.


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