How a Sheffield creative arts venue is rising up to help people after lockdown

A creative venue at the heart of Sheffield’s former Castle Market district is reaching out to help people perform and learn about the music industry.

Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 11:39 am

Rite Trax brings together musicians and artists at Plot 22 – a multi-purpose creative space on Exchange Street which opened just over fours years ago as a music and arts based venue.

It was due to relaunch after a £20,000 refit of Plot 22 in March 2020, but Covid-19 meant the building had to close down before it was able to be used to its full potential.

The organisation has now run a Lottery-funded project working with over 30 vulnerable adults, including people in recovery from drug, and alcohol misuse, ex-offenders, ex-prisoners and those not engaging with services, such as street drinkers.

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Michael Thompson who runs the Rite Trax project. Picture Scott Merrylees

Michael Thompson aged 29, is part of the management team running Rite Trax. He said: “We delivered targeted music and creative sessions in one-to-ones and small groups, working on DJ-ing, instrument tuition, music production, lyric writing, visual art, personal training and more.

“We recently broadcast a six-hour livestream showcasing some of the work from the project on YouTube,” he added.

The Violence Reduction Unit project was delivered online, working with young people to develop creative skills through targeted sessions with industry professionals.

Plot 22 was badly affected by the Covid restrictions and placed on the Red List by the Music Venue Trust as a ‘place at risk of closure’.

Michael Thompson who runs the Rite Trax project with fellow tutors and musicians. Picture Scott Merrylees

The National Lottery has now stepped in and provided cash to help it stay functional throughout the lockdown and to buy new equipment.

Michael said: “In October last year we were granted £25,000 from the National Lottery through their Covid response scheme. We’ve used half of that to buy some new DJ equipment and a Sound Healing Machine, which is quite interesting and is coming over from America.”

Michael himself has first-hand experience of how things can go badly wrong in life.

He came to the Steel City to study history at the University of Sheffield, however he became involved with use of illegal drugs and was sentenced to 12 months in prison in 2013.

Street Art on Exchange Street.

But he used this time to reform himself, learning about social enterprise, and turned his life around. Now he feels passionate about helping others to stay out of trouble.

In the near future Plot 22 plans to reopen for musicians and artist to perform and generate income. Many artists have been unable to earn money or receive government support due not having self employed status.

“The venue is quite small so social distancing is not really any option,” said Michael.

“And we’ve not got loads of outside space to do table service – we're not a bar or a pub, we’re an outside space and venue.

Street Art on Exchange Street.

“We’re looking to relaunch the venue, and we’re applying for an arts council grant to upgrade the space.

“We also want to do a whole series of projects for artists and musicians in Sheffield towards the end of the year and the start of next year.”

Michael added that Rite Trax had also launched a record label in the last 18 months called Wub Club which caters for club and dance-oriented music.

“We’re then launching another record label and online platform in the next six to 12 months which is going to be under the name Rite Trax for more of a eclectic sort of music, stuff that’s not explicitly dance music, like spoken word, poetry, acoustic music, live stuff,” he said.

“This will be a platform for people who have joined us on projects, and learned to DJ or an instrument can perform or participate in, so giving people an introduction to the business, giving them experience and paid opportunities.

“We’re trying to give people something else to do, especially people who had support taken away from them during the lockdown.”

Michael said there was a significant group of people who had been struggling before lockdown and then saw all their face-to-face support drop.

“So coming to us to do a one-one session was really quite valuable for them,” he explained.

“One of the plans placed on hold by Covid was more provision for young people – for instance a youth club on a Friday or Saturday evening.

“We’re also looking at doing a dry event – an explicitly alcohol-free event for people in recovery so they can go out at night, get dressed up and not worry about the pressures of having to have a drink.”

The main income comes from organising club nights and gigs and the group also runs a community festival in Crookes on the Bolehills every August along with an event on Castlegate called the Castle Gate Escape.

“Normally Rite Trax would be pretty active,” said Michael.

“The big side of it for us in the last couple of years is that we've been focusing on community work and making links with other youth organisations in the city so we can take on some of their young people and work with them during the day times, and then doing the events broadcasts in the evenings.

“It’s just about trying to get it to link together in a way which makes sense.”

Michael added that the pandemic had accelerated and highlighted a lot of issues that needed tackling – a trend which Rite Trax had been made aware of since Covid. He said there were more young first time offenders due possibly to youngsters having less to do, not being at school, hanging around with people and getting into trouble.

“Last year the police were saying a lot of young people were being picked up for the first time. People who wouldn't usually be offending were getting picked up for offences.

"I guess we need to do anything we can to give them something which has a bit more of a creative purpose.”