Beloved Sheffield venues The Leadmill, Corporation and Abbeydale Picture House at risk of closure as lockdown decimates music industry

When Kiefer Sutherland took to the stage at The Leadmill, fans never imagined it would be one of the last concerts in Sheffield for a very long time.

By Lucy Ashton, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 1st July 2020, 2:26 pm
Updated Wednesday, 1st July 2020, 4:57 pm

Just two weeks later, the country was plunged into a lockdown so severe, it could close some of the city's most famous venues for good.

While pubs and restaurants stagger back to their feet from this weekend, the government hasn't set a date for when clubs and music venues can reopen.

The Leadmill, Corporation and Abbeydale Picture House have been put on the at risk register by the Music Venue Trust, a charity which represents hundreds of grassroots venues.

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The Leadmill

It says 90 per cent of venues and festivals currently face permanent closure and has issued an urgent warning to the Government that £50m is needed to prevent mass closures in July, August and September.

"Every venue is in danger of closing if this goes on past Christmas, the entire arts sector is on a cliff edge," says Rebecca Walker, assistant general manager at The Leadmill.

"Our staff are furloughed for now but we don't know what the future holds. We are being as optimistic as possible, trying to do everything in our power not to let staff go and are working hard to keep as many as possible.

"From August, the company will need to make contributions to furlough and it will have to come from The Leadmill's savings. We are not getting any income to support us.

Rebecca Walker Of The Leadmill

"Furlough is due to end in October and as soon as it ends, the Leadmill will have zero income to pay staff.

"The Leadmill employs 75 members of staff but that doesn't include the crew and engineers we contract in, or the artists that have their own crew. The arts sector employs a vast amount of people.

"There is a ripple effect of how many people will be affected. A lot of people are self employed and falling through the cracks. It breaks my heart.

"We are doing everything we can as a company to support staff but we can't do it indefinitely and it's so scary thinking about what is going to happen after October."

Corporation nightclub is at risk of closure

The future looks bleak for music fans as well. Rebecca adds: "We have spent the past few months as a company rescheduling events into autumn and winter 2020 but we are now having to move them into spring 2021.

"Even if we were able to reopen, we couldn't open immediately as a live music venue. Shows are booked anything from three to six months ahead of time so we would only be open for club nights and maybe for some local bands but touring acts need a lead-in time.

"There's also breakthrough acts who don't have the small venues to work on their craft, we don't know how they are going to get up the music chain."

The Leadmill has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £1.5m for a crisis fund. Billy Bragg helped raise £20,000 which will be split between the crisis fund and The Leadmill.

Abbeydale Picture House is also at risk of closure

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"We are in a more fortunate position than a lot of other venues and we want to raise money for all the venues," says Rebecca.

"It's highly likely that a lot of venues in our region won't open up again and we want to do as much as possible to highlight this.

"We need the government to immediately inject £50m but that will only see venues through the next three months.

"On from that we are lobbying for tax breaks to help us past October. It is a very worrying time."

Mark Hobson, the managing director of Corporation, says it's simply not viable to open while social distancing rules are in place.

"We can hold 1,400 people. If we opened with a 2m distance we could get 48 people in, that would maintain the distance properly along corridors and fire exits.

"Even with 1m distance it would only go up to 166 people which is not much better."

Mark also says live acts wouldn't be able to return immediately. "Acts are part of a tour and you have to liaise with booking agents who have to plan it all so it's not just a case of someone playing a date.

"You then have to promote the act and sell tickets, a short sell for a gig still takes two months."

Corporation was unable to claim a business grant so it has also been left without any income.

"We have received nothing from the day we closed. We have 45 staff who have been furloughed but we will struggle to top up furlough from August onwards.

"How can businesses that are not allowed to open and earn money pay furloughed staff? We need the Government to help so we can make sure the city gets out of this in the best possible way."

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