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Save The Leadmill campaign ramps up ahead of September licensing committee meeting

By | Published on Thursday 27 July 2023

The Leadmill

The ongoing Save The Leadmill campaign has moved up a gear, with the venue’s existing management saying that their dispute with landlord the Electric Group is “a battle for the soul of Sheffield”. This comes ahead of a Sheffield Council meeting in September where the Electric Group – which wants to directly run the venue moving forward – will seek its own licence from the local authority.

In a bid to rally further support ahead of that licensing meeting, the current management posted an emotive video earlier this week that makes some pretty bold statements. “This is the battle for the soul of Sheffield”, it begins. “It’s a battle for everything that has made our city what it is today”.

Meanwhile, the boss of the Electric Group – Dominic Madden – has again hit out at the Save The Leadmill campaign, which he previously dubbed as “toxic”.

He accuses current Leadmill operator Phil Mills and his team of deliberately misleading the public into thinking that the venue will close when the Electric Group takes control of the building. But the Electric Group is a venues business, and plans to run and programme The Leadmill in a similar manner to Mills and his colleagues.

Madden’s company bought the building that houses The Leadmill in 2016. The current management team were then formally given twelve months to vacate the premises in March last year. Eager to remain in place, that team quickly launched their Save The Leadmill campaign, which has won the support of many artists and fans.

The deadline to leave the building came and went, and the current team is still in situ and has programmed shows into 2024. It emerged earlier this month that the Electric Group has now begun formal legal proceedings to evict Mills and that should reach court next year.

Along the way the Electric Group – which also runs venues in London, Bristol and Newcastle – began the process of securing a licence from Sheffield Council to allow it to directly operate a venue in its building.

Technically that will initially be a ‘shadow premises licence’, which is where a landlord holds a licence in relation to a building where a tenant also has a licence to trade. The aim, presumably, is to ensure that any future switchover between Mills’ team and Madden’s team is as seamless as possible.

When the Electric Group began that process, the current team urged their supporters to formally object to the new licence application with Sheffield Council.

Noting that “without a premises licence, a venue cannot operate”, they said in a statement: “The general public are able to object to a premises licence application if they are aware of any relevant reasons as to why it should not be granted”.

While it seems likely that some of those supporters submitted objections to the council, the ‘relevant reasons’ allowed for objecting to a licence application are very narrow. There are four main reasons that can justify such an objection, as follows: “the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; the protection of children from harm”.

All of this means it seems somewhat optimistic to think that the Electric Group’s plans to take control of The Leadmill can be blocked by the council’s licensing committee. Nevertheless, a meeting of that committee on 18 Sep is the next key date for the current team as their Save The Leadmill campaign continues.

“The battle we are facing is whether, in the years ahead, we have more or less independence in Sheffield”, the new campaign video declares. “We need a home where some of the greatest artists of all time can still be discovered. We need a home where cinema and theatre fans can come together. We need a home where comedians can craft their trade and keep our city laughing”.

“We need a home where nightlife can remain fun, safe and secure”, it continues. “We need a home where the culture, arts, music and heritage that our city has developed over its life can continue to thrive. We need a home where our community can come together to support each other. We need The Leadmill”.

“If we don’t stop this hostile takeover”, they then conclude, ramping up the drama even more, “the very soul and character of our great city is at risk. This battle may start with The Leadmill, but it goes much further than that. This is the battle for the soul of Sheffield. Join us”.

The “independence” point towards the start of all that is another argument regularly presented by the current management team, especially once people realise that the Electric Group will continue to run a venue in the building. The argument goes that The Leadmill is better as an independent venue run by Sheffield people.

Seeking to counter that narrative, Madden said in a previous statement: “We intend to recruit a team from Sheffield, we intend to continue to run all the community engagement projects that they do at the moment, we will continue to run the studios that are set above the venue. The new version of the Leadmill will be almost seamlessly similar to the existing operations”.

Noting that the Electric Group – while running a small network of venues around the UK – is hardly a big corporate, he added: “We’re good people, and we actually bought the venue to protect it from being redeveloped. Every city has its own peculiar, weird and wonderful handwriting, and the venues need to reflect that. We don’t run a chain of venues. We’re not the O2 Academy”.

In a new statement, Madden is keen to further stress that his company bought the building that houses The Leadmill in a bid to ensure it remained a venue in a world where property developers are all too keen to turn city centre buildings used by venues into apartment blocks.

Says Madden: “Electric Group acquired the Leadmill building from MCR Properties with a genuine concern for its future and the possibility of redevelopment. As operators of multiple music venues across the UK, it seemed only natural that we would step in to protect this iconic space”.

“Phil Mills, the current operator of the Leadmill, had several opportunities to purchase the freehold of the building, including during a public auction in 2014″, he then adds. “However, he chose not to pursue this course of action, and as a result, Electric Group acquired the freehold in 2016. Our intention from the beginning has been to continue operating the venue as a music, arts, and comedy hub, preserving its legacy”.

As for the ongoing licence application, he continues: “The application for a shadow premises licence is a proactive step to safeguard the Leadmill’s future as a music venue for generations to come. This is not about shutting down The Leadmill or forcing anyone out of business. Instead, it’s about securing its status as thriving space for artists and community engagement”.

“We understand that this current situation must be profoundly difficult for the staff who are facing anxiety and uncertainty during this transitional period”, he then says. “We hope to engage with all staff who are currently involved with the Leadmill at the appropriate time”.

“To reiterate, our intentions have always been rooted in preserving and enriching the cultural fabric of Sheffield”, he concludes. “We are excited about the opportunity to continue The Leadmill’s legacy and build upon its rich heritage as a beloved music and arts venue”.

But first, we watch September’s meeting of Sheffield Council’s licensing committee and any court hearings next year regarding the eviction proceedings with interest.