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Wales Online
Wales Online
Jonathon Hill

Welsh music venues to be bought by fans to protect them 'forever'

Two popular Welsh music venues are to be bought by fans in a move which offers a long term solution to difficulties felt as a result of the pandemic and rising rents. The Music Venue Trust (MVT), which has organised the scheme, says it will promise venues - including Le Pub in Newport and The Bunkhouse in Swansea - a stable footing and an opportunity to offer live grassroots music “forever”.

The pilot scheme - which includes another seven venues in England and Scotland - began this week and has already raised more than £200,000 of the £3.5m target. The aim is that the money raised will allow the venues to effectively be owned by the trust and fans, protecting them from rising rents or threats of closure.

MVT’s Mark Davyd said the scheme had been planned long before the pandemic, but the pressures felt across the industry as a result of Covid had hastened the need to get the scheme started. He called the scheme the “National Trust of music venues”.

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“This is without a doubt the most ambitious project we’ve ever undertaken,” Mark told WalesOnline. “The idea is that the money raised will allow venues to enjoy protected tenancy for as long as they want. Fans can buy shares in the venues as well as artists.

“Venue operators will pay less than the market rate as a result and they won’t have to worry about big rent hikes and debts running up. For the longer term, in the next ten years we’d like to acquire 200 venues through the scheme and essentially create a democratic shared ownership of the music community.”

Music Venue Trust of MVT founder and chief executive Mark Davyd (PA)

Mark explained how for many music venues, major threats faced include noise abatement orders as well as property developers hoping to buy up city centre buildings. According to MVT, 35% of grassroots music venues have closed in the last 20 years in the UK, and 93% of venues are run by tenants.

“Venues are facing a confluence of things that have gone wrong in the sector in recent years,” Mark said. “To help venues we need to be bold. This needs to be done completely differently from top to bottom.”

Le Pub, Newport (WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

Sam Dabb of Le Pub on Newport’s High Street said “benevolent ownership is the way forward” for the industry. “During the pandemic 70% of government funding went to private landlords,” she said. “It’s now time for a big shake up.

“For too long big record labels have reaped the benefits of small venues and haven’t given enough back. There has been very limited investment in grassroots music and it has threatened us all.

“I’m confident the scheme can offer stability. It’s not a bad deal either. People who put money in are getting three per cent interest. That’s better than most saving rates.”

Jordan McGuire outside The Bunkhouse in Swansea city centre (The Bunkhouse/Jordan McGuire)
The Bunkhouse, Swansea city centre (Media Wales John Myers)

During the pandemic, The Bunkhouse relied on fans to help it survive through fundraising. Now part-owner Jordan McGuire says it feels right to join the scheme.

“Our landlord wants to sell the building and they offered it to us, but there is no way I could have afforded it,” Jordan said. “We knew the building could then go to someone who would turn it into flats. It’s just easy money.

“I approached MVT and explained the situation and it’s all gone from there. It’s nice to know The Bunkhouse can be in Swansea for generations.

“Interest now is as high as it’s ever been here. Young people are so desperate for grassroots live music. They’re arriving in their hordes every week and most of them are under 25. It’s really promising.

“My hope is the scheme will make the venue even more intimate and community-based. It will be nice for music fans to own their venues so the next generations can appreciate them as much as we do.”

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