This project is bringing new audiences to indie UK music venues
Independent Venue Community has a plan to encourage people – from the very young to the deaf community, people with learning disabilities, and the elderly – to see live music
image Hanny Naibaho
words Team Woo
Grassroots venues across the UK have been in crisis for a number of years – thanks to the pandemic and lack of funding or support, hundreds have closed their doors. In London alone, the capital has lost over a third of its music spaces. Last year, the Music Venue Trust said that British venues faced upwards of £90million of debt due to the spiralling costs incurred by the pandemic and lockdown.
Now more than ever too, venues need to attract a broader, more diverse base of music lovers in. Yet for many, gigs and concerts aren’t accessible, or feel exclusive and out of reach. The most marginalised can often feel excluded from these mass experiences; the elderly, neurodivergent people, anyone with access issues.
Today, on July 19, the Independent Venue Community has been launched. It’s a new network with a mission to make the live music experience more inclusive, with help from charities and organisations that cater to various communities.
The IVC has been developed by the people behind Independent Venue Week (IVW). There’s a full plan of daytime programmes that include music-based activities to encourage new audiences to these spaces around the UK and broaden their appeal.
The network is focusing on six groups and areas: Early Years, Young People, the Deaf, Disabled and Neurodivergent, Mental Health and Wellbeing, LGBTQIA+, and Older Years. According to a press statement the IVC has “a strong emphasis on underserved communities and those living in areas of low arts engagement”.
Groups and existing community programmes have been looked to for inspiration for IVC's work. It includes schemes like Gig Buddies, which links people with learning disabilities with buddies so they can safely and comfortably attend music and entertainment venues.
Soundcheck Sessions and The Warren Youth Project in Hull were also cited as influenced by the IVC, which specifically work with young people. Soundcheck Sessions connects with young people aged 14 and above to bring them to live shows prior to their opening, so they can get a glimpse behind the scenes of productions. As IVC founder Sybil Bell said in a press statement, they can have “genuinely life-changing outcomes for people, especially those who don’t normally get access to these kinds of opportunities.
IVC is currently supported by Arts Council England, Creative Scotland, Arts Council Wales, the Welsh Government, and Youth Music, with an aim to grow and expand across the UK. Independent venues can currently pitch to be involved too. Musicians including Philip Selway of Radiohead have voiced their support for the project.
“Independent venues are the absolute heart of the music business, from small villages, to towns and cities, all around the country. What’s less appreciated, however, is the role they can play as community spaces, where local people can express themselves, try new things or simply come together in person. From first hand experience, with initiatives like The Warren Youth Project in Hull or our own Soundcheck Sessions and BE, activity like this can have genuinely life-changing outcomes for people, especially those who don’t normally get access to these kinds of opportunities,” says Sybil Bell of IVC.
“Ultimately, we want to build a national network of engaged local communities, and encourage more music venues to throw their doors open in the day. By doing this, I believe they can increase and diversify the people coming through their doors and unlock significant hidden value and talent. It’s a win-win situation.”
British punk new-gen band Nova Twins are also ambassadors for the project. “Independent venues and the communities that surround them are at the heart of the music industry. They are the foundation of many great bands, technicians and crowds of like minded music lovers,” they said in a statement.
“This independent ecosystem feeds the whole industry, encouraging new artists to grow and sustain themselves. Without it, the history, culture and existence of today’s UK live music would eventually die. We need to keep fostering diversity within this space, as it’s the make-up of all the music we love, from the bands on stage, to their crews and their fans.
“When we were coming up, we were often one of the few female artists of colour, both on the bills and in the crowd. It was isolating and we were often met with confusion or rejection because of some people’s lack of education and experience. Music is for everyone. People should be given the same opportunities regardless of where they are from, their race or sexual orientation. Everyone should feel welcome and have a safe space to enjoy music freely.”
Check in on the list of activities and events with the Independent Venue Community here – if you’ve ever felt uncomfortable or excluded from music that you love, or you’re curious to explore new realms, give it a go!