The Leadmill Sheffield: Landlord Dominic Madden reveals £1m investment plans and says he hopes to keep name
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Dominic Madden, CEO of Electric Group, which bought the property on Leadmill Road from MCR Properties for £600,000 in 2017, also said he hopes to keep the name and is taking legal advice about whether this will be possible.
But he insists the decision to take over the venue’s management has been made and opposition from the current tenant, whose 20-year lease is due to expire in March 2023, and from supporters of The Leadmill will not change his mind.
What music venues does Electric Group already run?
Mr Madden said he wants to invest ‘around £1m’ refurbishing the premises to secure its future as a music venue for the next 30 years, and he urged music fans to judge Electric Group on its track record taking over and running celebrated venues in other cities.
Speaking to The Star, he said: “Personally I’ve spent 30 years operating live music venues, that’s what we do.
"The idea that we would take something as culturally significant, important and well-loved as The Leadmill and close it down and turn it into flats is a nonsense.
"We have a track record of investing in music venues and an understanding of the cultural significance of this venue in Sheffield.
"It shouldn’t be a massive surprise given we bought The Leadmill and we’ve spent our lives acquiring, operating and nurturing grassroots music venues elsewhere that it would clearly be the intention to take it back at the end of the lease, refurbish it and invest in it and make sure it’s ready to serve audiences and artists for the next 30 years.
"I can see there’s going to be certain resistance to somebody from London turning up and buying the Leadmill, but I’m actually from Newcastle and I think people should look at what we’ve done elsewhere and judge us on that. If people go and talk to the people we work with they’ll find out we’re good people and we’re music people."
What are critics saying about Electric Group’s plans to take over running The Leadmill?
Mr Madden faced a Twitter backlash after defending plans to take over the running of the music venue, with many critics responding that the venue is about more than its four walls, and suggesting he had underestimated how much The Leadmill means to the people of Sheffield.
Several other independent Sheffield venues joined the backlash, arguing that the soul of The Leadmill belongs to the people who have run it for the last 42 years and built it up into what it is, not a company which came along in 2017 and bought the bricks and mortar.
Responding to that criticism, Mr Madden said: “Venues are living, breathing things, which have stages in their organic development. Electric Brixton today isn’t Electric Brixton as it was in 2013, and SWX in Bristol isn’t the same as it was when it was Syndicate in the 90s. Venues change over periods of time.
“What’s important to people who are custodians is that they move with the times and are constantly reinventing so audiences are provided with brilliant experiences and the facilities are upgraded for artists.”
He said he was happy to ‘speak to anybody’ but was ‘committed to taking the building back and operating it’.
Would The Leadmill keep its name under plans for new operator, and what would happen to staff?
He added that Electric Group hopes to keep the name, as The Leadmill is a ‘music institution’, and had taken legal advice on the matter.
Mr Madden said he was not able to comment on what would happen to the many people working at The Leadmill but he assured people it would continue to support many jobs if the management changes.
"We employ hundreds and hundreds of people across the country, and we haven't bought this building to knock it down or mess it up. We’re there to celebrate its heritage, invest in it and hopefully upgrade its facilities,” he said.
"Look at what we’ve done elsewhere. We invest and do the right job, and I can say there will be an awful lot of people working at and employed by The Leadmill for the next 25, 30 years.”
Mr Madden said he was proud of what Electric Group had done with the former Fridge music venue in London, which reopened in 2011 as Electric Brixton following a £1 million refurbishment and which he said was now recognised as ‘one of the most important music venues in Europe’.
He also pointed to the success of SWX in Bristol, a former nightclub which it had relaunched in 2015 as a live music venue, and said it was preparing a £1.5m makeover of the former O2 Academy Newcastle, which is set to reopen in October 2022 as an independent music and club venue, NX.
What have MPs and council leaders said about plans for The Leadmill?
Despite Mr Madden’s assurances, the campaign to keep The Leadmill as it is and allow the current leaseholder to continue running the venue, shows little sign of going away.
The Leadmill this afternoon said it had received tens of thousands of supportive messages and planned to launch its own petition shortly.
It said: “Millions of pounds have been spent by The Leadmill (not the landlord) on the fabric of what was once a derelict building.
"It is the hard-working, dedicated and local family of staff that have put 42 years worth of their blood, sweat and tears into making it the cultural asset it is today.”
And Sheffield’s Labour MPs Paul Blomfield, Louise Haigh, Olivia Blake, Clive Betts and Gill Furniss have written to culture secretary Nadine Dorries asking for an urgent meeting about The Leadmill’s future.
Their letter describes the venue, which has been the springboard for acts including Pulp and the Arctic Monkeys, as ‘an essential part of the UK’s cultural heritage and an asset to our creative industries, which we cannot lose’.