A year ago, the Covid pandemic forced the closure of all grassroots venues.
Here, Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd looks back on a difficult 12 months, salutes the resilience of the community and shares his optimism about the next steps to revive live music…
On 20 March 2020, the UK government announced that all grassroots music venues should close for a period of lockdown to manage the risks from Covid 19. Most of the 942 venue members of the Music Venues Alliance had closed their doors to the public before the official word came down. These venues are strongly connected to their communities with a deep sense of the duty of care and responsibility they owe to their audiences. That sense of community had already told them what the government was now officially telling them: that to manage the Covid crisis, stages would need to be empty, lights would be dimmed, and our beloved and cherished live music community would fall silent.
It has been an incredibly difficult 12 months for everyone who loves, works in, or relies on grassroots music venues. In April 2020, Music Venue Trust survey information indicated that 83% of the sector faced imminent permanent closure. Such a catastrophic loss of the infrastructure would have resulted in thousands of job losses, hundreds of thousands of lost performances, hundreds of millions of pounds in lost economic activity. It would fundamentally undermine the grassroots sector, which is the foundation stone of talent development in the UK, for decades to come.
Faced with the scale of this threat, the campaign to Save Our Venues was born. On this one-year anniversary of the official closure of grassroots music venues, less than 1% have permanently closed. There are some venues we know to be safe until they can reopen, and others that need help right now to make it through. There’s a third, worrying, category of venue that have fallen quiet; Schrodinger’s venues that are neither lost nor saved until the time comes to reopen them. Worryingly, there remain just over 200 venues across the UK in this last category. But more than two thirds of the sector is now reporting it will definitely survive to reopen.
That outcome was achieved by a tidal wave of support to ensure Covid doesn’t result in the permanent loss of the sector and that this temporary crisis ends with the return of vital live music opportunities to our towns and cities. Over 75,000 people have donated more than £4million to the #SaveOurVenues campaign, with central and local government recognising the value communities place on their access to live music with a raft of grants and assistance.
Our community has shown that we are strong, resilient and determined
Online festivals, special releases, merchandise, and overwhelming support from artists and the music industry have all been factors in the incredible success of that #SaveOurVenues campaign. Music Venue Trust wants to thank each and every single person that has played any role in that campaign. Without people, you’re nothing, as Joe Strummer once said. Our community has shown that we are strong, resilient and determined. Our campaign to #SaveOurVenues is a practical example of the power people can have when they choose to use it.
Wherever and whenever an opportunity to present live music safely became available, artists, venues, staff and crew have tried to keep the spirit of the grassroots music sector alive. They have delivered thousands of online events, shared experiences, and socially distanced shows, all seeking to replace what we have lost with something that at least reminds us of how important live music is to our lives.
But deep down we all know that nothing can replace that feeling you get when that artist plays that song at that time to that audience and you’re a part of it. That’s what’s driving us on to get this done; that sometime soon, we will all be together again to celebrate that moment.
It’s been one year of silence. An incredibly tough, challenging and complex road lies ahead to Reopen Every Venue Safely and Revive Live Music. But it can be done. People who say it cannot be done should get out of the way of the people doing it.
With your help, together, we are going to do it.
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