Venues desperate for support after 'Freedom Day' delay

Live music venues are desperate for more support after the Government delayed lifting Covid restrictions, according to one senior industry figure.

Albert's Shed at Southwater, pictured before the Covid-19 pandemic
Albert's Shed at Southwater, pictured before the Covid-19 pandemic

Albert's Shed, which has major live music venues showcasing local acts in both Shrewsbury and Telford, will cease hosting music events after this weekend due to the ongoing costs of operating under Covid restrictions.

The venues have been running socially-distanced gigs since May, but with grant funding allocated from the Cultural Recovery Fund set to run out at the end of the month, managing director David Gregg said they had taken the decision to close until restrictions are relaxed again.

So-called 'Freedom Day' has been postponed until July 19, although that date is still awaiting Government confirmation.

Currently socially-distanced gigs at the venues mean people cannot sing along with the acts, or dance.

They also mean that venues which were able to host up to 1,000 people over an evening are now only able to welcome 120 in Shrewsbury and 130 in Telford – severely impacting takings.

Mr Gregg said they had taken the decision to close again temporarily due to the costs of continuing to operate – and the uncertainty that the latest delay will only be four weeks.

He said: "We were lucky enough to get funding from round one and round two of the cultural recovery fund but that runs out at the end of the month."

He added: "To be honest I am more down now than I have been throughout because the sector as a whole has been well supported and the Music Venue Trust has been fantastic in getting us that support but now we feel all that support is for nothing. The way the Government see it is it is another four weeks but if we are losing thousands each week you can't carry on.

"It is a long time and there is no certainty that the restrictions will be lifted in four weeks anyway. In March 2020 we were told it could be three weeks and here we are 17 months down the road."

Mr Gregg said the situation was frustrating for bands who have not been able to perform to a 'normal' live audience, and for staff and punters desperate to get back to doing what they love.

He said: "It is a massive blow to be closing the venues again. In a couple of weeks we have gone from massive optimism and looking forward to getting the whole thing going again to doom and gloom and people are wondering how long before we can get back to doing what we love doing."

Mr Gregg said the situation was particularly frustrating given the images of football fans in London over the weekend.

He said: "From the bands' point of view they just want to get people singing and and dancing but if you follow the guidelines you cannot do that. Then you switch on the TV and you see hundreds of football fans singing together and hugging each other."

Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, has warned the delay will have a major impact on venues.

He said: “It’s a car crash for many businesses that had to prepare a lot earlier to get ready. Now they’re financially committed and worried about what the future looks like, because they’ve spent those cash reserves preparing for opening on the 21st – and now they’ve got to survive an additional four weeks.”

The concern comes amid the creation of a West Midlands Music Board (WMMB), aimed at supporting the recovery and growth of the region’s music sector.

The group's intention is to provide a collective strategic voice to advocate for, compile data on and lead the local music sector.

Respected West Midlands artists Lady Leshurr, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, and Joan Armatrading have all championed the new board.

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