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Grassroots venues on red alert as music community awaits Culture Recovery Fund decisions

By | Published on Thursday 1 October 2020

Live music

The Music Venue Trust yesterday announced that the entire grassroots venue network in the UK is now on “red alert” and facing complete collapse after last week’s announcement by the UK government that its new general COVID support schemes have been designed for those companies and freelancers whose businesses are now slowly returning to normal.

The problem is that the same government’s ongoing COVID restrictions mean that most live music and events companies are either operating at a fraction of their usual capacity or – in many cases – are still in full on shutdown.

For its part, the government insists that – while its general COVID schemes are no use for the live and event sectors – the £1.57 billion in sector-specific support already committed to the cultural and heritage industries will fill the gap.

A significant portion of that money will be distributed later this month via Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund. With competition for that funding fierce, it remains unknown for the time being to what extent those monies will benefit venues, festivals, and other music and event businesses, let alone the many freelancers who rely on those companies and organisations for work.

Noting just how much now rests of the funding decisions ACE will imminently announce, MVT boss Mark Davyd said yesterday: “After six months of struggling to survive, grassroots music venues now face a two week period of huge uncertainty in which their future will be decided by the outcome of a single government funding announcement. The government has put all its eggs in one basket and has no back up 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”.

The Trust’s Strategic Director Beverley Whitrick added: “Music Venue Trust is extremely concerned that the situation has become ‘Schrödinger’s fund’; hardly anyone has received any significant support from the Culture Recovery Fund yet, but everyone is going to be saved by it. This is not a coherent strategy; the government does not even control the distribution of the funding they have made available and on which their entire strategy for the UK live music sector now rests”.

There also remain concerns that even those organisations that get money from the CRF may only be bought a few months of extra time by the grant they receive.

The government has admitted that the current COVID restrictions, which prevent most shows, tours and festivals from going ahead, could be in place for at least another six months.

Given the general COVID support schemes are of little use, there is a danger that the live and events sectors could have a two-stage collapse: those who do not get CRF funding going out of business now, and those that do in the new year.

With all the in mind, MVT is again calling on the music industry, music fans and the local communities around each grassroots venue to provide further support, especially once the CFR funding decisions have been announced.

“Any venue that is not successful [in getting a CRF grant], or any venue that is ineligible, will still be unable to open, will still have to pay rent and will still have no possible income sources from the day those decisions are announced until the day they are finally able to open”, Davyd went on.

“We need everyone who cares about the future of grassroots music venues to take note of these decisions as they are made and if necessary to take direct action to save any venue that is unsuccessful”, he concluded. “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”.