Social care

Independent Venue Week – how community ownership can help venues that are facing closure

It’s Independent Venue Week, and the timing is certainly relevant as more live music venues in Wales face increasingly difficult challenges to keep trading.

By Catherine Evans · 1 February 2019

See this page in: Cymraeg

At the Wales Co-operative Centre, we’re currently supporting the team that’s trying to keep Gwdihw going. It’s a small venue in the centre of Cardiff that has a loyal following, and has been a feature of the capital’s music scene for a number of years, with bands, solo artists and poets gracing the stage.

It’s one of three businesses on Guildford Crescent, the others being two restaurants that have already closed. We’re helping Gwdihw’s campaign team to explore the potential for community ownership as a solution for future sustainability, wherever the venue is based.

We already have experience of helping a music venue to make the transition to community ownership, with Le Pub in Newport. The business relocated to another part of the city centre, and it’s gone from strength to strength ever since the community share issue first opened.

Claudia Limpert is Community Shares Advisor at the Wales Co-operative Centre, and we’ve asked her a few questions on this issue:

Could you briefly outline the support you provided to Le Pub, given that you hadn’t worked with a live music venue on community ownership before?

When I first met Le Pub’s steering group/directors they were a group of existing staff and regulars, of all ages and walks of life. They were looking to come together to find a way to save a music venue which they felt was important to their lives, as well as the wider music community in Newport. From my perspective, I had already worked with a number of community groups to take over local buildings or businesses, so when I saw the widespread support to save Le Pub I knew that the community shares model would work for them and open up opportunities to create something even bigger and better.

What difference has this support made to Le Pub, its management, investors and customers?

I think the key change for Le Pub – or Le Public Space as it is now known – is that it has changed from a business that is owned by one person to one that is owned by about 70 people. These people are made up of directors, staff, customers, artists who have performed there, or just people wishing to support the music scene in the area. It’s strengthened the relationship that the business has with all of its stakeholders and allowed each of those people to have a voting right in the organisation. It also made it possible to raise the capital to ride out the transition to the new venue and put a value on the power of volunteers (just watch their video to see the elbow grease that got them ready to open their doors). They’ve now been running for 18 months without needing to ask a grant funder or a bank for money (which would have been very difficult to access anyway).

picture of a group of people at Le Pub

You’re currently assisting Gwdihw for similar reasons. Why do you think community shares could work for them?

It has been such a shame to see businesses, such as those located in Guildford Crescent in Cardiff, struggle with the uncertainty of losing their homes. I think the wider community of Cardiff has felt this too, and the outpouring of support has been incredible. With adversity comes opportunity, and Gwdihw are now presented with the option to harness this support and use the community shares model. This will give people the chance to use their resources – time, skills, and money – to help the Gwdihw team to find a way to re-create everything they stand for in a new venue.

Why do you think community ownership is a solution that more independent music venues could adopt?

Independent music venues across the UK are struggling; Community share offers give communities a chance to make things happen without being restricted by bureaucracy. It’s a possible solution for music venues because they have such a widespread support from local community members, who recognise the cultural importance of having an arts venue that can nurture local talent as well as a wider community of interest. The community shares sector is growing, and there’s evidence to suggest that when someone becomes an investor in a local enterprise they are more likely to become a regular customer or volunteer – as they now have an even stronger interest in seeing the business succeed. This gives community owned venues a competitive edge over private businesses.

Finally, what are the main things that independent music venues need to consider before becoming community owned?

Before becoming community owned, music venues would need to consider whether they are comfortable with the co-operative principles that would shape how they operate as a business. They would also need to be comfortable with the shift in ownership and control of the business. It’s not as chaotic as it sounds, as the day to day, smaller decision making would still be entrusted to the management staff and the board of directors. It’s also a reasonable amount of work to transition into community ownership, but fortunately under our current National Lottery Community Fund programme we can provide support around all of this.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our community shares services, you can call us on 0300 111 5050 or visit the projects section of our website.