Tag Archives: Newport

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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Introducing Communities First (Central Newport style)

Good use of film to introduce what Communities First is all about in the Central Newport cluster. Communicates more in under 4 minutes than any number of newsletters, posters, etc.

Given the ethnic diversity of the area perhaps subtitled versions of this film might be produced too?

C1 Newport Central

Cluster Manager Lee Robson explains what Communities First is aiming to do…and why..

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Legacy or impact? Succulent lamb journalism vs community development

I was familiar with the concept – living in Wales with its tiny media, political elite and intelligentsia makes it difficult not to be – but it was the ever excellent Gerry Hassan in his blog on the demise of the previously hegemonic institutions that ruled Scottish society – Glasgow Rangers, Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Labour Party – that familiarised with me a term for it: “succulent lamb journalism”.

It refers to the manner in which journalists, both print and broadcast, in effect collude by “refusing to risk their access and rights by asking difficult questions” of hegemonic and ruling interests while they “feast at the table” with them.

I fear the same is happening in Wales in respect of the legacy of sporting events. The term ‘legacy’ is being used as much genuinely as it is with abandon. There appears to be inconsistency across politics, the media, government-sponsored bodies and sports governing bodies about what legacy actually means, as distinct from what the legacy will be (e.g., more people taking regular exercise, a reversal of the sale of school playing fields, reduction in obesity, a cementing of class divide, etc.). That the latter debate is political and value-driven it is probably to be expected that the definition about what legacy means is similarly contested.

But when The Western Mail (25th August 2012) appears to agree with Visit Wales that the presence of five Chinese tourists on a Gower bus is proof of the legacy of the Olympics then my fears that succulent lamb journalism is alive and well in Wales prove well-founded. That the Chinese visitors quote the Olympics opening ceremony as the motive for visiting the Gower is not irrelevant, and is to be trumpeted, but a legacy it is not. It is merely impact of the games. Hopefully it is the sign of things to come; an increase over coming weeks and months of Chinese, and other, visitors. Only if the absolute numbers of Chinese visitors to Wales continues to increase or plateaus as a level higher than has been historically the case can we start to talk about a legacy for tourism.

Surely, The Western Mail should be challenging and scrutinising what vested interests are saying about their sector, rather than being a voicepiece for their PR. Indeed, it should be doing likewise across all sectors: economy, sports, health and education. Instead it appears to be in collusion with them.

Further proof is the lack of scrutiny of the legacy of the 2010 Ryder Cup. Much vaunted, and publicly-funded, talk of its legacy has tailed off completely. Quotes about American tourists, golf tourist visits, golf participation rates, and new demographies playing golf were plentiful in the immediate aftermath of the event. But have they been maintained? Have initial statistical ‘spikes’ translated into established trends? If not, then what was being labelled as ‘Legacy’ was merely ‘Impact’. It is principally, though not exclusively, the media’s job to hold the vested interests to account.

This is not to say there is not a role for the media in defining what legacy is and what it should be after such sporting events; that it must remain aloof to such discussions. I fear however that the media is disinterested in or disinclined to report from the grassroots where modest impact happens, and which aggregated together over time is what actually shapes a legacy. It prefers to talk about the millions of pounds, the investment: the ‘panoramic’. For that is what the top table talks about while it feasts. Neighbourhood level activity probably does not figure

There is, for instance, presumably no story forThe Western Mailin seeing how many young people, ethnic minorities or women from Ringland or Pillgwenlly are reguarly playing golf at local clubs and reporting what positive impact the sport has on their lives and aspirations. But if the media is not interested then community development workers are perfectly-placed to lobby, collectivise and mobilise communities to report it for themselves. They will hear people articualting a change in attitude because of Jade Jones or Mo Farah or because the Ryder Cup was in Newport. They will also witness how, when and to what extent this translates into greater participation in sport, citizenship or democracy activities. Community development workers will also be able to record and report the impact on crime, health and educational attainment that these choices end up having. If the media will not come to us, we must go to the media.

Community development workers too, however, need to be disciplined and balanced in what they believe is legacy or impact otherwise they run the risk of pulling up a chair and joining the succulent feast at the top table.

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#SaveLePub – a worthy campaign but an opportunity missed?

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

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

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