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Dispute over the future of Sheffield’s The Leadmill rages on

By | Published on Monday 4 April 2022

The Leadmill

The war of words continues between the current management team and the landlord at Sheffield venue The Leadmill, following the news the latter is evicting the former, but with plans to keep the building running as a venue under new management.

The current managers of The Leadmill announced on Thursday that “today we have received some devastating news that in one year’s time, our landlord is trying to evict us, forcing us to close”.

Initially many in the music community feared that this was another case of a venue’s building being repurposed into offices or luxury apartments, depriving yet another city of a crucially important grassroots performance space, but it quickly became clear that this was a slightly different dispute.

The building is owned by a company called Electric Group which already operates venues in London and Bristol, with a third due to open later this year in Newcastle. And its CEO, Dominic Madden, said in a tweet on Friday morning: “We are music people, we spend our lives running independent music venues and The Leadmill will continue to operate as a special music venue. The management may change but the song stays the same”.

However, the current management team hit back, arguing that – while the building they currently occupy may continue to be run as a venue after their eviction – that doesn’t make said eviction any less devastating. Meanwhile, they then claimed, the Electric Group – which acquired their building in 2017 – is simply hoping to exploit the good reputation of a venue that has been operating for more than 40 years through what is basically a hostile takeover.

“The Leadmill is being exterminated by the landlord, they are destroying our business by evicting us”, that management team said in a statement on Friday afternoon. “They intend to profit from the goodwill and reputation built up over … 40 plus years. It is a cheap, shabby, sly and underhand way of doing business, by forcing companies to cease trading”.

They added: “Millions of pounds have been spent by The Leadmill (not the landlord) on the fabric of what was once a derelict building. It is the hard working, dedicated and local family of staff that have put 42 years worth of their blood, sweat and tears into making it the cultural asset it is today. Without The Leadmill, the building we currently occupy would be nothing more than a derelict old flour mill”.

But Madden has been hitting back too, insisting that he and his company are well positioned to take over the running of the Sheffield venue, with plans to invest around a million pounds in refurbishing the space while “securing its future” for the next 30 years.

Speaking to the Sheffield Star, he said: “Personally I’ve spent 30 years operating live music venues, that’s what we do. The idea that we would take something as culturally significant, important and well-loved as The Leadmill and close it down and turn it into flats is a nonsense”.

“We have a track record of investing in music venues and an understanding of the cultural significance of this venue in Sheffield”, he added.

“It shouldn’t be a massive surprise given we bought The Leadmill and we’ve spent our lives acquiring, operating and nurturing grassroots music venues elsewhere, that it would clearly be the intention to take it back at the end of the lease, refurbish it and invest in it and make sure it’s ready to serve audiences and artists for the next 30 years”.

Presumably aware that his company describes itself as “an independent music company, born and bred in Brixton”, and that the Yorkshire music community might not appreciate a London-based company – even a London-based independent music company – swooping in and taking over such an important music venue, Madden was also quite keen to play the trusty “but I’m a Northerner” card.

“I can see there’s going to be certain resistance to somebody from London turning up and buying The Leadmill”, he went on, “but I’m actually from Newcastle and I think people should look at what we’ve done elsewhere and judge us on that. If people go and talk to the people we work with they’ll find out we’re good people and we’re music people”.

The Electric Group – co-founded by Madden and Jake Lewis, part of the Lewis family that owns the River Island retail chain among other businesses – grew out of the Electric Brixton venue that Madden launched in 2011 in the one time South London cinema that previously housed nightclub The Fridge. The company then extended to Bristol by acquiring SWX in 2017 and is currently refurbishing the old Newcastle Academy which will re-open as NX later this year.

It seems that Madden hopes that The Leadmill will continue to operate under that name in the long-term. Although in their statement on Friday, the current management team said: “The Leadmill brand and name is owned by us and only us, without us there is no Leadmill. Mr Madden, stop using the Leadmill’s name to further your miserable mean ambitions”. For his part, Madden told The Star he is currently consulting his lawyers regarding the rights to the venue’s name.

Whatever the legalities, in PR terms the current Leadmill team do seem to be winning plenty of support from within the music community. Their statement continued: “We have received tens of thousands of supportive messages, and the music community is asking how they can help to stop this appalling development. We are in the process of organising a petition, which we will ask everyone to sign”.

However – while insisting he was happy to “speak to anybody” about his company’s plans for The Leadmill – Madden doesn’t seem in any mood to radically change those plans, telling the Star he is “committed to taking the building back and operating it”.