Leadmill: Sheffield Council and politicians promise ‘whatever it takes’ to save landmark venue

Sheffield Council’s executive member for culture said the authority will buy Leadmill’s building and pay its rent if needed, as politicians commit to doing “whatever it takes” to save it.

Friday, 1st April 2022, 3:53 pm
Updated Friday, 1st April 2022, 4:05 pm

Staff launched the campaign #WeCantLoseLeadmill saying its landlord was “exterminating” them and “destroying” the business by an eviction that would force it to close next year.

Its announcement went viral and led to outcry from thousands of people including bands, comedians and visitors from around the world.

It was transformed from a derelict flour mill to a landmark venue in 1980 in response to a lack of cultural facilities and Leadmill said it had spent millions of pounds making it the cultural asset it is today.

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Sheffield's Leadmill is under threat, staff say, and local politicians said they will do everything they can to save it.

Bands like Pulp, Arctic Monkeys and Oasis have played the world-famous independent club which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary and is hailed as Sheffield’s longest running live music venue.

Councillor Mazher Iqbal, executive member for development, culture and regeneration at the council, said he and Sheffield MPs Paul Blomfield and Louise Haigh had been working with Leadmill for several months to stop the closure.

He said measures the council will offer include: working with the landlord to find a different venue, acting as a guarantor for Leadmill and buying the building – if the landlord will sell – following an independent valuation to ensure a fair price.

The cost of this is expected to not be “millions and millions”, Coun Iqbal said.

Staff working on the renovation of The Leadmill, L to R Graham Wrench, John Clapham, Mark Dinnin and Liz Ewbank...August 1989

He added: “Usually as a council we help, we try to intervene, we just don’t have resources to stop everything but on this one we are going to do whatever it takes to keep the Leadmill where it should be.

“It is a national treasure, it’s part of Sheffield’s cultural music heritage and we want to keep it that way.

“When folks say ‘what’s Sheffield about?’ Leadmill is always up there.

“It’s not something that is on its knees and it’s going to fold, it’s well loved. People come from all over. It’s a major national, if not international, attraction for us.”

Councillor Mazher Iqbal, executive member for development, culture and regeneration at Sheffield Council, is supporting the #WeCantLoseLeadmill campaign.

Political support to save the Leadmill

Politicians of all stripes across Sheffield have shown their support.

Sheffield Labour MPs have written to Nadine Dorries, secretary of state for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, seeking an urgent meeting to stop the eviction.

In the letter, they said: “The Leadmill has been pivotal as a creative springboard for bands from Sheffield and across the north, such as Pulp and Arctic Monkeys, who have gone on to make an enormous contribution to the music industry. It is an essential part of the UK’s cultural heritage and an asset to our creative industries which we cannot lose.”

The Leadmill, Sheffield..8th January 2020..Picture by Simon Hulme

Mr Blomfield added: “Sheffield without the Leadmill is unthinkable. It’s made an extraordinary contribution to the city and to UK music for 42 years. It’s outrageous that another operator has bought the lease to turn the Leadmill out and set up a new venue on the back of their success. I’m determined to protect this iconic Sheffield asset from this act of vandalism.”

Sheffield Green Party issued a statement, also committing to do everything they can to save the “irreplaceable” venue.

They said: “Few cities have a venue that has hosted so many world famous acts, as well as being so important over the years in promoting and supporting small and local artists. It is part of the fabric and history of our city centre.

“Entertainment venues like the Leadmill are essential to the health and prosperity of the city centre.”

In an official statement, the council said its powers were limited and it cannot directly intervene in the legal process taking place between Leadmill and the landlord, however it encouraged people and organisations to explore what processes were available to formally protect the venue.

Kate Martin, executive director at the council, said: “The Leadmill is an iconic part of Sheffield that means so much to people both in the city and across the country. When people talk about music in Sheffield they talk about the Leadmill, it’s part of our fabric and we absolutely do not want to see it go.

“We don’t own the building and therefore have limited powers, but we’re looking at every opportunity. We have been working with the venue in recent weeks and will continue to do anything that we can to support them.

“Music is in our bones in Sheffield and the Leadmill plays such an important role in that, for both performers and music lovers. It’s where upcoming talent gets a chance to shine, where people remember their first gigs, and where so many iconic acts have walked that stage.”

A petition with around 7,000 signatures at the time of writing is calling for it to be protected as an asset of community value.

Who is the landlord and what do they want?

Dominic Madden, co-founder of London-based Electric Group – the landlord, said they were “music people” and the site would continue “as a special music venue”.

He added: “The management may change but the song stays the same.”

In a later statement, Electric Group insisted Leadmill was not closing.

It said it bought the freehold in 2017, making it the landlord for Leadmill’s leaseholder Phil Mills whose tenancy runs until March 2023 after which it will oversee “substantial investment” at the site. It said more detailed information about its plans would follow.

“There was never any question of us closing the Leadmill,” Mike Weller, head of music at Electric Group, said.

“The refurb will make the room better equipped to accommodate the modern wants of live music and club nights for audiences and performers.

“We want to ensure the Leadmill’s future is as exciting as its history.”

Leadmill hit back at this saying “everything people love about it would be gone”.

It added: “The Leadmill brand and name is owned by us and only us, without us there is no Leadmill.”

Coun Iqbal urged the landlord to rethink.

He said: “Our understanding is they want to keep it as a music venue. That’s great, you can open a music venue anywhere but this is the Leadmill. The Leadmill is Sheffield. It’s a national treasure…

“I think they have underestimated what it means to Sheffielders…This isn’t just a normal music venue, it’s the Leadmill. It’s our history: the culture, the heritage, the music.

“You can’t move it. We could build another Leadmill but it’s not the same.”