On 2nd July respected sports writer David Conn tweeted:
“Bradford Bulls appealed for £500,000; hard up fans gave willingly; now it’s all lost. Fans should pool money into trusts, not black holes.”
It followed news that the beleaguered Super League club faced the renewed risk of entering administration despite the recent pledge from thousands of supporters, and despite asking for an assurance (among several prudent others) that:
“the pledge has only been called in because the club is confident that administration can be avoided.”
The fate of a 105 year old rugby league club is a far cry from the efforts to secure the future of a small Newport music venue but Conn’s tweet came to mind when the following appeared on my twitter timeline:
“SWN and Sam Harries (Manager of Le Pub) have begun a campaign to buy and #savelepub”
The campaign’s donation page can be found here and I encourage you to contribute. It is a worthy cause, because as the campaign’s pitch states:
“After the closure of Newport TJs we don’t want that to happen to Le Pub. We think that’s bad for music in Newport. Bad for music in Wales. We keep seeing venues close in Wales and the UK, with people unable to step in to save things. It’s terrible for live music in Wales – for new bands finding places to play; for people to find venues to see bands, make friends, make memories and do something different.”
The Toucan Club and The Point have also shut for good in recent years. The Coal Exchange’s days as a concert venue are numbered with news of the residential redevelopment being un-mothballed. And The Globe and Barfly (now Bogiez) have also had periods when they have been forced to close their doors. Gig-goers and bands in south east Wales deserve better.
At the time of writing*, and after only a week, the campaign had raised 10% of the £20,000 target, but with only 3 weeks remaining time is clearly pressing. However, “do something different” says the campaign’s pitch. But with many of the music venues listed here, and others, having privately changed hands in recent years yet, I suspect, remaining very difficult to run as profit-making enterprises, how different are the objectives of this campaign? In its use of crowdfunding and social media, it is certainly novel. But different?
It is usually the case that in such crowdfunding campaigns – such as the community of Glyncoch’s hugely successful efforts to raise almost £800,000 for a new community centre – that should the target not be met then donators are returned their contributions in full so there is absolutely no chance that the investment is lost as may have happened in the case of the Bradford Bulls supporters’ pledge. But there is nonetheless a parallel between both campaigns.
According to the founder of crowdfunding platform StartSomeGood.com, Tom Dawkins, there are three reasons why people contribute to a crowdfunding campaign:
- because they care about the work
- because they want to see the future being described come to fruition
- because they feel connected to the entrepreneur or the community they represent
In both the Bradford Bulls and Le Pub cases it is clear that these motivations have been powerful. In the Le Pub case, however, I would hazard a guess and say it is primarily the third reason, and specifically the connection with community that is proving to be the main motivation, both community of geography i.e,. Newport and south east Wales, and community of interest i.e., twenty-to-thirtysomething gig-goers, members of aspiring bands, and people with an interest in the alternative music scene.
As such I think the #SaveLePub campaign is missing an opportunity to really tap into these communities and genuinely “do something different” by offering an alternative business model for music venue ownership and enterprise in south east Wales, and perhaps the UK. The #SaveLePub campaign incentives for different levels of contribution by offering a free drink in return for a £10 contribution; a t-shirt for a £50 contribution; culminating in a free-entry-for-life incentive for the up to five people who contribute £1000 each.
These are admirable and logical incentives. But offering donators the opportunity to get not just a t-shirt or pint but a share or shares in Le Pub and a stake in the business and become co-owners would help not only raise the necessary money and allow individual donators to demonstrate their modest but impassioned philanthropy, but offer a radical alternative to a typical business model that is, as demonstarted by the plight of other venues in south east Wales, clearly struggling.
If the #SaveLePub campaign was to offer the opportunity to take up mutual ownership of Le Pub, donators would retain control of the capital they invest rather than merely exchange it for a free pint, a limited edition t-shirt and the opportunity to carry on attending gigs as before (at least until the next financial difficulty). The rights and entitlements this brings would include a right to a say in how Le Pub operates (e.g., which bands it puts on, themed club nights, which drinks to serve etc.), a share in any profits (and co-operatives do make profits) the venue makes and a massive practical resource in running the venue. Indeed the sustainability of the enterprise would not be reliant on high risk/high reward, PR-intensive crowdfunding efforts to raise capital. It would have a membership from which to do that, if necessary, in a planned and co-ordinated manner. Furthermore it could develop social as well as financial objectives related to offering recording opportunities to bands or encouraging socially excluded or unemployed people opportunities to develop confidence, skills and income in the music industry
This would be doing something different indeed. And not only in south east Wales but on a UK basis. I know of very few mutually-owned music venues elsewhere in the UK. The Unity in Wakefield is one, albeit on a different scale to Le Pub, and not exclusively a music venue. The Wharf Chambers in Leeds is closer in scale and scope to Le Pub. Yet The Co-operatives UK‘s directory of co-operatives doesn’t appear to list many others.
If you know of one I’d love to hear about it.
So, I raise a glass to the efforts of the #SaveLePub campaign. I dip into my pockets to contribute. And I wish it every success.
But it could be so much more.
*This was originally posted on July 13th. The #Save Le Pub campaign has been relaunched with a different crowdfunder and the sum it hopes to raise is also different. Other terms might also have changed. The current pledge page is at http://www.sponsume.com/project/save-le-pub