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Unsung Heroes 2020: Music Venue Trust

IQ's fifth Unsung Hero is Music Venue Trust, which stepped up its work supporting grassroots music venues during the pandemic

By IQ on 15 Jan 2021

Music Venue Trust’s core team: Sarah Claudine, Mark Davyd, Menna Grasser, Clara Cullen and Beverley Whitrick

The core MVT team

Unsung Heroes 2020, published in IQ 95 just before Christmas, is a tribute to some of the organisations and individuals who have gone above and beyond to help others during a year unlike any other – be that through their efforts to protect the industry, or helping those who were in desperate need.

We turned to the readership and asked you to nominate worthy causes and personalities for consideration as the inaugural members of our Unsung Heroes awards. Now, IQ can reveal the dozen most-voted Unsung Heroes of 2020, continuing with the UK’s Music Venue Trust, which follows Musically Fed’s Maria Brunner.

Led by husband and wife founders, Mark Davyd and Beverley Whitrick, Music Venue Trust (MVT) also counts Clara Cullen, Sarah Claudine and Menna Grasser as its core team.

However, during the pandemic, MVT has enhanced its team with a number of national and regional co-ordinators who include Nick Stewart, Sam Dabb, Stu Fletcher, Jay Taylor, Danni Brownsill, Chris Sherrington, Harkirit Boparai, Luke Hinton, Sophie Asquith, Keiron Marshall, Sam Jones, Geoff Priestley, Barney Jeavons, Tom Maddicott, Matt Otridge, Toni Coe-Brooker and Lucy Stone.

Strategic director Beverley Whitrick explains, “Music Venue Trust started 2020 with plans to build on the success of 2019 – the first year in which more grassroots music venues (GMVs) opened than closed in the UK. Having spent the last few years trying to build understanding of the vital role that these venues play as cultural, social and economic hubs and creating a community of venues (the Music Venues Alliance, or MVA), we planned to move to a more formal, paid membership model and travel around the country consulting widely with the people who run these venues.”

As the coronavirus pandemic spread and restrictions hit live music and venues hard, that strategy, of course, had to be scrapped. “Instead we found ourselves completely changing plans, appointing lots of temporary team members, and the MVA growing from 600 venues in January to over 900 by November (membership is still free).”

At the start of 2020, MVT had only two full-time members of staff, but Whitrick pays tribute to the committed team members who stepped up to focus full-time on the plight of the UK’s small venues, which, in history, have never needed more help.

“We needed three things: more money, more people and more lobbying power”

“Our early surveys and reports identified that we needed three things: more money, more people and more lobbying power,” says Whitrick. “We created #SaveOurVenues to try and tackle all three, embarking on a huge crowdfunding campaign to pay for a bigger team and raise money for venues, while also creating a focus for PR and lobbying.”

That effort worked. Since the end of April, more than £3 million (€3.3m) has been raised thanks to artists, photographers, designers, merch companies, music industry donors, music fans and the mayor of London.

The money raised enabled MVT to appoint MVA coordinators across the UK to work individually with every venue in the network and to assist clubs and businesses to apply for any money they could claim from governments or local authorities.

“Key to our work has been giving all layers of government reports about the financial interventions needed to sustain venues. We have worked with cultural funders to help design funding, and then guided venues through the process of applying for funding – most of them for the first time.

“This work is ongoing, but so far £60m [€67m] has been secured by GMVs, exceeding our expectations of the recognition they would receive for their cultural value. Our team has been incredible at teaching, supporting and encouraging people who had never thought they could (or should) have to lay out why their work is as eligible for support as any theatre, concert hall or arts centre.”

Unfortunately, not everyone was eligible or successful in obtaining funds, so the work continues. Whitrick adds, “MVT always aims to be practical and effective. We also understand the need for mental health support, and are grateful that our venue community exists and is well supported by other parts of the music ecosystem. We are still working on ways to reopen every venue safely, and hope that will happen soon so we can all get back to experiencing live music in intimate spaces.”


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