Music venues are hubs for entrepreneurship. Cities should support them

London's Denmark Street: a whole music quarter, on its way out. Image: Getty.

In 2014, according to CAMRA, pubs were closing at a rate of 31 per week. This is actually down, from over 50 per week in previous years – but nonetheless it reveals that our leisure habits are changing to a lifestyle that requires less local pubs to cater to our needs.

It isn’t just pubs, though. Over the last 12 months, over 30 music venues have closed down for a variety of reasons – from increased rents, to noise complaints, to redevelopment. In some cases, they went because they were in pubs that closed, such as The Grosvenor in Stockwell, which has been repurposed by Golfate, an Isle of Man property developer. We have seen the loss of the Freebutt and The Blind Tiger in Brighton, the 200 Club in Newport, the Kazimier in Liverpool, and Madame Jo Jo’s, The Buffalo Bar and every venue on Denmark Street in London.

Each closed for different reasons – but with less music venues than pubs, the problems felt by those who use them has been more acute. In response, the Greater London Authority has created the Mayor of Greater London’s Live Music Task Force to work with councils to incorporate venues into the debate around planning, land values, regeneration and the city’s cultural make-up; other councils have created funding structures around venues, such as The Waterfront in Norwich.  

Every article I have read that calls on us to support small venues makes a similar argument: if small venues disappear, developing artists have no outlet to practice their craft and increase their audience – or customer – base.

But I want to make a different case. My argument is that venues should be provided with the same support through our local authorities and governance structure as innovation hubs or cluster development structures. Because this is what a venue is: it is a hub for entrepreneurship, cross discipline innovation and business development. It is a place when Britain’s IP is developing, its businesses are trading and new products are being introduced, song by song.

If one breaks a successful, modern venue down into its component parts, the music is one spoke in a larger wheel: they don’t just create businesses in the creative sector, but also in technology and IP. Take Under The Bridge in Fulham, a venue housed inside Stamford Bridge Football Stadium, that houses an in-house LED screen, state-of-the-art speakers and live streaming capabilities. All the artists that use the space have access to that technology, spurning cross-disciplinary innovation and new ideas, not only for the product manufacturers, but also for the musical copyright holders, the bands.

Or take another example, my local pub in Forest Gate, The Wanstead Tap. By day it hosts day care services, yoga classes and birthdays; in the evening it puts on folk concerts, film screenings and dinner parties. Here is a venue that is cross-pollinating a number of creative sectors, offering incubation support to childcare, hospitality, film and, as always, music.

We do not look at venues as innovation hubs. One reason is that the term has yet to be properly defined (so says Oxford University); when used, it’s usually focused on the manufacturing of a product, be it an app or a new piece of technology.

But venues are not manufacturing sites – they are testing areas. New songs are trialled, that could become the most important three minutes of IP in an entire sector. The technology to support that ecosystem – from the lights and sound to the equipment hire, make-up of the stage, fridges, ticketing systems and so on – is all being tested, too. Each of these variables houses its own innovative sector – and each are combined in a venue.

And yet, in Britain, venues are closing.

In France and Germany, the state offers them capital for restoration and management capacities. I don’t believe that public funding is the answer here, but we must take more time to understand why we develop spaces – because this argument is not being aired each time a venue closes its doors.

We rely on innovation, the testing of new ideas and risk-taking in our business community. Yet we are closing the places that best service this for not only the music sector, but also a number of other, too. Let’s change this debate.

Shain Shapiro is the managing director of Sound Diplomacy, the world's leading music market development agency.

The first Music Cities Convention will be held in Brighton on 13 May



Here are my five favourite London council estates

The Dunboyne Road estate. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

The author is a Labour member of the London Assembly. In the name of impartiality, CityMetric would like to extend the invitation to write similar columns to representatives of other political parties.

From successful post-war efforts to move families out of slums and into modern homes, to today’s efforts to construct a new generation of social housing, there’s much to be celebrated in London’s precious council housing stock.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Addison Act, which established a national building programme with government funding for the first time. So here – in no particular order – are my top five London estates:

1. Dunboyne Road

In 1965, the newly established London Borough of Camden was bold and radical when it came to public housing. Their architect’s department boasted 98 staff, led by Sydney Cook. The Grade II listed Dunboyne Road (pictured above) was Britain’s first high-density, low-rise estate. Designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1977, it was the first major work by architect Neave Brown.

Its concrete construction and geometric layout are eye-catchingly modernist, but the 71 flats and maisonettes fit neatly into their surroundings; a reimagining of the classic London street for the 1960s. Each has a private terrace and own entrance onto the central pedestrian walkway and communal gardens, with stepped levels and dual-aspect windows creating light throughout.

Neave Brown himself lived on the estate in the final years of his life remarking, “Who am I to say, but it’s beautiful”.

2. Lilington Gardens

Located just off Vauxhall Bridge Road, the fourteen blocks at Lilington Gardens were built between 1964 and 1972. Between three and eight storeys each, it was again a rejection of the tower blocks which dominated the era, showing that mid-rise housing could provide both beauty and density.

Image: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when Westminster could be proud of the quality of its housing, John Darbourne and Geoffrey Darke won a competition to design the new estate. The result was something special, eschewing modernist forms for something more rugged and layered. The layout allows for secluded green spaces, while the red brick cladding echoes the neighbouring Victorian church of St James the Less. Like all good estates, it included a pub – the Grade II*-listed Pimlico Tram (now The Cask). It was included not as an afterthought, but an integral part of the estate’s design.

3. Ossulston Estate

By the early 1950s, the London County Council’s architect’s department was the biggest in the world, building housing on a huge scale in addition to showp iece projects such as the Southbank Centre.

Though their suburban estates – Downham in Bromley, and Becontree in Barking and Dagenham – were pioneering examples of low-rise of modernity in metroland, these efforts did not always suit the needs of poor city dwellers who weren’t able to move further out. The Ossulton Estate, however, built between 1927 and 1931 on the site of a Somerstown slum and located between Euston and St Pancras stations, did exactly that.

Image: Stephen McKay/Wikimedia Commons.

Chief architect George Topham Forrest’s work was inspired by visits to ‘Red’ Vienna and Ossulston bears distinct similarities to Karl Marx-Hof, which was constructed at the same time. While the roofs and windows have traditional elements, the overall aesthetic is a modernist classic. Like many estates in post-war years, it suffered from neglect and a lack of investment, but following a £6m improvement programme by Camden Council in 2004, the Ossulston is now back to its brilliant best.

4. Alton Estate

Roehampton’s Alton Estate, completed in 1959, was designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt – the first woman to serve as a senior public sector architect in Britain.

The two parts of the estate – East and West – are the crown jewels of British post-war council housing. Alton West was Le Corbusier in Albion: six ultra-modernist blocks modelled on the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, set among the landscape inherited from the Georgian Mount Clare house. Alton East was a softer, Scandinavian-inspired design of the “new Brutalists” in the LCC.

Image: Stevekeiretsu/Wikimedia Commons.

Rising above the trees to the north east of Richmond Park, the Alton Estate stands testament to the visionary idealism of post-war council housebuilding. On its completion, visitors flocked from across the globe, with American critic G.E. Kidder Smith calling it “probably the finest low-cost housing development in the world”.

Sadly, Alton West however is now at risk from ‘regeneration’ proposals which would see 288 existing homes lost. While council estates should not be fetishised, with investment, improvement and expansion encouraged, any change must be done sensitively and with residents’ backing. I hope that Wandsworth Council and Redrow will follow the mayor’s Good Practice for Estate Regeneration and hold a ballot before plans go ahead, and that if they do, they build on Rosemary Stjernstedt’s legacy.

5. King’s Crescent

When it comes to regeneration Hackney Council have taken an altogether different approach to Wandsworth.

Located on Green Lanes opposite the magnificent Clissold Park, King’s Crescent’s route to a successful and well-supported regeneration project hasn’t always been an easy one. The early 1970s estate was blighted by poor construction, navigability issues and an ill-fated partial demolition in 2000 which turned much of the landscape into hoardings and rubble. But thanks to a step-change in resident engagement and a transformation programme funded by Hackney Council, by 2023 it will be host to 765 new and refurbished homes.

Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

In the era of government-imposed cuts to local authority budgets, councils have to be pragmatic about funding choices and the new King’s Crescent does include homes for private sale. This is understandably a source of some consternation, but it’s also the source of funding which has made the regeneration possible. Hackney has ensured that more than 50 per cent of the new homes are genuinely affordable, with 97 brand new council homes for social rent.

The new developments have greatly enhanced the area, using both new build and renovation to stitch the estate better into its Victorian surroundings. Existing homes have been retrofitted with balconies, while disused garage space has been repurposed for modern flats. Hackney have clearly thought carefully about character and open spaces, as well as ceiling heights, windows and internal storage.

It is an exceptional project – one of a growing number of new schemes now being spearheaded by ambitious councils across the capital. In 2018-19, the Mayor of London funded the start of 1,916 new council homes – the highest figure since 1984-85.

…what about the Barbican?

On the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, it would be remiss not the mention the Barbican. It’s a brutalist masterpiece and a fantastic feat of post-war planning and design. The location and design are clearly outstanding, but it’s the bright and modern interiors which are truly to die for.

So why is it not on the list? Although it was built by the City of London Corporation, not one of the flats was ever available at a social rent. The properties were built to let at market rents to workers in the City, who later found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to snap them up under the Right to Buy – still the fate of far too many of London’s vital social homes.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.