Community development thinking inspired by Tangled Parrot, Independent Venue Week & Music Venue Trust – a sector fights back

In July 2012 I blogged about how the crowdfunding effort to buy Newport/Casnewydd’s Le Pub live music venue was an opportunity missed to develop an alternative model of ownership based on mutuality and co-operation. In November I attended one of the Mclusky/Jarcrew fundraiser gigs to raise money for soundproofing at Le Pub. With a new fundraising effort needed I recalled not only the blog and earlier campaign, but the more recent one by the Tangled Parrot venue in Carmarthen/Caerfyrddin. Interestingly the group behind this venture, the West Wales Music Collective, set itself up as a Community Interest Company (CIC), a relatively new legal status that is:

“a limited company, with special additional features, created for the use of people who want to conduct a business or other activity for community benefit, and not purely for private advantage”

(Office of the Regulator of CICs)

Thus, a CIC is distinct from a company undertaking a bit of corporate social responsibility or sponsoring some community events or facilities. As such the Tangled Parrot campaign appeared to suggest that there was a realisation in the sector of the need for a model different to a traditional private ownership one.

Hot on the heels of the Le Pub fundraiser came the inaugural Independent Venue Week at the end of January (and another gig to attend in honour of a worthy cause) which is

“a 7 day celebration of small music venues around the UK and a nod to the people that run them, week in, week out…These venues are the backbone of the live music scene in this country”

Indeed they are and they deserve recognition. Hopefully the week will grow year on year and emulate its kindred spirit the annual Record Store Day. However if they are the backbone of the industry and are so crucial to the germination of bands; so crucial culturally-speaking to the folks who pay to watch them; and so crucial as the means for learning the ropes as lighting engineers, sound technicians or promoters, then all the more reason to involve them all in the running and ownership of such venues?

Now, I’ve said little more here than I did in my 2012 blog. But I recently saw the following tweet:

which led me to discover a new Trust set up as a registered charity that seeks to:

“preserve, secure and improve the UK’s network of small to medium scale, mostly independently run, music venues. We have a long term plan to protect that live music network which includes, where necessary, taking into charitable ownership freehold properties so they can be removed from commercial pressures and leased back to passionate music professionals to continue their operation”

(http://www.scribd.com/doc/253772403/Understanding-Small-Music-Venues, emphasis added)

This is not the same as mutuality and co-operation, but is in the same ballpark (as is the CIC behind the Tangled Parrot) promoting values of sustainability and responsibility. The interim report on the research into the experience of UK music venues believes there’s a “national challenge” to the live venue circuit which has left the network of venues in a “perilous and precarious state”. Many in the community development sector talk in similar terms about the erosion of public services, hollowing out of local labour markets and pernicious forces undermining and destabilising assets of all sorts that communities hold dear (see recent threats to Cardiff/Caerdydd‘s library and parks services); indeed, it is entirely likely that many people will include small music venues among such assets. The music venue sector will be one where community development values will resonate strongly. There will be a need to challenge not only uneven power relations, but in some cases the state-sponsored underpinning of these (the research refers to evidence submitted by venues citing “incredibly relaxed planning” as a threat to their survival) and the wilful disregard for community interests and opinions (the research refers to property developers having “little interest in community opposition, even when expressed via a petition with thousands of signatories”).

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