Since March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic initially forced the UK into lockdown, the nightlife industry and independent businesses within it have been left to struggle. Although it seems as if life is returning to normality, with eased restrictions allowing large event attendance, those without conglomerate backing continue to face the repercussions.
Clearly, the public remains concerned about the virus, especially in the wake of the recent Omicron variant, with attendance to music events dropping by 23%, 86% of independent venues reported a financial loss with a combined shortfall of over £1.9 million every week.
It’s not all bad news, though, thanks partly to Music Venue Trust (MVT); a UK registered charity which ‘acts to protect, secure and improve’ grassroots venues and represents over 500 venues across the UK. It has been in operation for nearly a decade, with the first Venues Day networking event having taken place in December 2014, and is run by industry professionals, with CEO Mark Davyd co-owning independent venue Tunbridge Wells Forum for more than 25 years.
Strategic Director Beverly Whitrick states that ‘declines in attendance at this time of year represent an exponential threat to the whole sector’, a danger which the charity aims to combat with their #SaveOurVenues campaign raising money for venues at risk of imminent closure. Another campaign adopted by MVT is the National Lottery ‘Revive Live Tour’ which is currently in its second instalment and has previously featured prominent artists such as Sam Fender, Wolf Alice, Bastille, and even Welsh legend Tom Jones who performed at Leeds’ own Brudenell Social Club last August.
The Music Venue Trust receives support from patrons including Sir Paul McCartney and, most recently, London-based grime-punk duo Bob Vylan. Radio DJs Phil Taggart (BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio Ulster), Abbie McCarthy and Sarah Gosling (BBC Music Introducing) are also listed as patrons alongside BBC Radio 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq, who recently hosted a tour in celebration of Independent Venue Week, beginning Monday 31st January. The tour featured performances from artists championed on his radio show - such as Leeds post-punks Yard Act (at Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds) and Isle of Wight newcomers Wet Leg (The Louisiana, Bristol) - and helped to increase attendance and revenue for the chosen venues. Music Venue Trust also has the support of Jane Beese, Head of Music at Manchester International Festival, alongside politicians such as Labour MP for Bristol East Kerry McCarthy, Lord Tim Clement-Jones of the Liberal Democrats, Conservative MP for Selby and Ainsty Nigel Adams, Scottish National Party MP Patrick Grady and Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader of the Green Party.
Despite the Music Venue Trust’s best efforts, more government funding is necessary to sustain the future of the UK’s nightlife and music industries, with a study using data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) presenting the increasingly falling numbers of British nightclubs. In 2010, over 10,000 nightclubs were registered in the UK, a number which fell to 8,370 in 2015 and again to under 7,000 in 2021. It is therefore expected that in several years, less than 5,000 will be in existence.
Amid the rise of the Omicron variant towards the end of 2021, representatives of the Music Venue Trust denounced government support (including £6000 grants available to businesses) as ‘woefully inadequate’. They call on Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Bedfordshire and Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to create a substantial stabilisation fund after the majority of an originally promised £1.7 billion Culture Recovery Fund is still unallocated. Not only is the funding not enough: Chris Pritchard, manager of the Tunbridge Wells Forum, described the process of receiving funding as ‘long-winded’ and ‘arduous’. Stacey Thomas, manager of The Lexington in London, labelled the little support offered as ‘pointless’ and ‘barely touching the sides’ in a December NME interview, also stating that she would ‘rather they gave the money to the NHS’. Thomas believes that, as an alternative, a rent freeze and further VAT reductions for venues would be sufficient as a replacement.
Overall, the future of the nightlife and music industries in the UK remains uncertain, with venues on the brink of collapse starting 2022 with the bleak prospect of cancellations and possibly closure. Government funding does not appear to be sufficient, so they are left to rely on charities such as the Music Venue Trust as business continues to decline.