The IMI 19th Apr 2022

Future of grassroots music venues 'still uncertain' post-pandemic, warns MVT

“The stress of the last two years has taken a toll on confidence,” says Trust's COO Beverley Whitrick.

The worst of the Covid-19 pandemic may be in the past for the UK, but the future of the UK’s grassroots music venues is still far from certain, with many surviving in precarious circumstances financially.

That’s the warning from Beverley Whitrick, COO at the UK’s Music Venue Trust charity, which acts to protect, secure and improve grassroots music venues.

The Music Venue Trust saw significant growth during the pandemic, according to Whitrick, with grassroots venues looking for help in one of the worst hit sectors amidst various lockdowns and Covid restrictions.

At the start of March, MVT announced a new Board of Trustees, including the appointment of new Co-Chairs – Ingrooves’ Bonita McKinney and Heliocentric Entertainment’s Phyllis Belezos – as well as a Treasurer in Ticketmaster’s Scott Taylforth.

The change came in preparation for what Whitrick described as “the next phase” of the Trust, as it continues to protect the grassroots music venue community.

Speaking to The IMI, Whitrick elaborated on what exactly that next phase would entail.

“MVT grew rapidly during the pandemic as we worked to secure the grassroots music venue sector,” she said. “We are now intent on ensuring that MVT, as a charity, develops into a sustainable organisation that can continue to offer the best support to GMVs going forward.”

A key element of that mission is the launch of the Music Venues Alliance membership platform and moving to a paid membership model, something that was initially announced at Venues Day 2021.

“In the full knowledge that venues still do not have much money, we have created a model that allows better off venues to pay more and struggling venues to be supported by the community,” Whitrick explained. “It is important that some core funding for MVT’s work comes from the venues themselves so that we can focus on what they need, rather than our agenda being driven by an external sponsor or funding body.”

"If GMVs were not subject to commercial rents and short-term leases then so much more could be invested in artist development and the community around the venues."

In addition to improving member services and continuing to support venues in peril through its Emergency Response Service, MVT is also developing the live music projects model it introduced in 2021 with The National Lottery Revive Live Tour.

Building ownership will also be a major focus for the Trust going forward. The fact that 93% of grassroots music venues in the UK are being operated in buildings subject to commercial rents exacerbated the difficulties caused by the pandemic, but the significance of ownership goes beyond Covid.

“If GMVs were not subject to commercial rents and short-term leases then so much more could be invested in artist development and the community around the venues,” said Whitrick. “MVT has a major initiative to tackle this, which we will be announcing shortly.”

MVT will also continue its work to gain recognition for GMVs as cultural, social and economic hubs within their local community.

“We are working with venues to help them adopt structures appropriate to the fact that presenting grassroots music is not a profit-making activity,” said Whitrick. “This and building relationships with local stakeholders, particularly local authorities, will be an important area of work through 2022 and beyond.”

But Covid recovery remains a key part of the MVT’s remit for the immediate future, with the pandemic having a long-term effect on venue operators.

“Everyone is working hard to offer live music experiences, but the stress of the last two years has taken a toll on confidence,” Whitrick added. “Shows are still being rescheduled or cancelled due to illness, or because they were part of a European tour that is now not happening. Audiences are inconsistent – many venues are struggling with pre-sales, which makes it harder to plan practical things such as staffing.

“No shows are still a major challenge,” she added. “In the GMV sector, ticket prices are low and the venue depends on bar sales for necessary finance. If someone doesn’t come, even though they may not request a refund, the venue is still losing money they were counting on. Live music is back, but it is more stressful than pre-pandemic.”