This Is The Reality For Grassroots Music Venues Right Now

This Is The Reality For Grassroots Music Venues Right Now

London's Paper Dress Vintage on the coronavirus shutdown, and what the future holds...

It was a weird feeling pulling down the shutter on our venue the other week. An eerily quiet high street, the odd person drifting by wearing a mask, a small queue of customers outside M&S keeping their distance from each other.

Our closure sign read 'It's the end of the world as we know it' and it certainly felt like it at that moment.

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We've no idea when we'll be allowed to open again, I'm a natural optimist and hope that it might be sooner than the mooted 12 weeks but am prepared for the reality of it being longer, much longer, and for disruption to continue throughout the year, and even into next year, who knows... so we're doing all we can right now to prepare for that eventuality. Whether it be rolling lockdowns, reduced capacities, restrictions on certain sectors being eased before others..everything is possible. And when we do come out of it there's the very real possibility of a deep recession taking hold.

The government's response has offered some hope, we've not had to make any redundancies and have put all our salaried staff on furlough and are applying for all the assistance we can get - what we don't know is how long we'll need it to last for. How we come out of this and what damage will be inflicted will be defined by what deal we can do with our landlords.

Our business is spread across two adjoining buildings so we have two landlords we're currently negotiating with and I assume similar conversations are happening up and down the country. Without any income we can't pay the rent, and the rent where we are is pretty eye-watering.

Keeping the doors of a grassroots music venue open is tough at the best of times, so the Covid-19 crisis has been a hammer blow to the sector and I fear many venues will close because of it.

I saw an open letter from G.A.Y. which screams about the problem loudly, they're dead right - no-one should be profiting during this crisis and I hope that landlords will appreciate this and that the government shows leadership on this matter and can to take the pressure of loans and mortgages from landlords like they have done in the household mortgage sector.

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When we come out of the other side the already embattled high street is going to be littered with even more empty shells and I really hope that landlords can work with their tenants, venues like ours, and appreciate the fact they have someone in place who will be more than happy to regularly pay to continue to use their property when this is all over.

If these tenants go down who do they think is going to replace them?

Fearing the worst, we've been getting creative at Paper Dress and have launched a Crowdfunder offering different rewards including tickets to a future relaunch party (something to day-dream about), bar tabs and vouchers for the shop, as well as a partnership with Hackney Brewery to deliver beer & bog roll to people's doors which got covered by Time Out, and have raised close to £5000 in just over a week. Reading the messages of support from the 143 people who have already donated to the cause has provided some cheer in an otherwise depressing landscape.

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Another shining light through this whole roller coaster has been the tireless work of the Music Venues Trust who have been supporting our network of grassroots music venues and helping us navigate through these unprecedented weeks, steering us towards all the support available and putting us in touch with other venues who are facing the same challenges. There's a real sense of desperation in the community and many venues are fighting for survival right now.

The MVT have just launched a timely call to action - calling on the music industry, cultural sector and the UK's most successful musicians to come together to create a £1m fighting fund to prevent the permanent closure of hundreds of Grassroots Music Venues around the UK. If these venues close they won't be coming back any time soon.

A large segment of the music industry is also in deep trouble; the sound techs, touring crew, session musicians, promoters and agencies the list goes on. There are fundraisers already rolling for musicians with charities like Help Musicians doing great work in lobbying the majors, the DSPs, PRS and PPL to support the people on whose talents they rely. I'm hoping that this campaign from the MVT can build a similar level of momentum.

Venues like Paper Dress are so important in giving a space for new artists to develop, to tour, for scenes to be born and to flourish, for culture to be incubated, and their existence and the memories forged in them enrich all of our lives... staying at home is going to get boring fast and when we come out of this we're sure going to want somewhere to go.

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Get involved in the Paper Dress Vintage crowd-funder HERE.

Words: Stephen Dix

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