The Music Venue Trust describes itself as acting “to protect, secure, and improve grassroots music venues”.
The charitable organisations St Michael’s and All Saints’ Charities are the landlords. The aims of these charities include the support the church of St. Michael and the North Gate nearby.
The news comes after a long battle for Cellar’s survival. In 2017, the church charities attempted to shut the club down in order to redevelop the venue into storage for a shop. A petition signed by over 13,600 supporters kept it open; however, another blow was dealt a year later as The Cellar had to limit the number of people allowed in to just 60 after inspectors decided that the fire escape was 30cm too narrow.
Over 2,000 supporters pledged more than £92,000 to pay for the changes. Despite this, the manager, Tim Hopkins, after failing to negotiate a rent agreement, had to close the club.
CEO of the Music Venue Trust Mark Davyd said in a statement to the press: “The final outcome of two years of campaigning by local people is that the existing venue, run by a much-admired family, powered by a passion and commitment to the local scene, has been lost.
The landlords state that they want to be ‘champions of live music in the city’, but put simply they have lost a tenant who was keenly committed to that cause. If the rent was not affordable by Tim and his family, who have given years of their lives and thousands of pounds of their own money to support Oxford’s music scene, it is not going to be affordable to any other operator who is prepared to take the venue on.
We wait to see if any operator can be found to deliver a venue that genuinely supports grassroots music and artists in this location, and, of course, we will support anyone who is able to do that.
But two years ago, the landlord was happy to close this venue to try to maximise its profit, and now the venue is closed and the pursuit of maximum profit is still the intent of the landlord.
Until landlords are made to appreciate that they are part of an entire community and that not every square inch of land can be maximised for profit without destroying the heart and soul of our cities, we are going to go on seeing venues across the land closed down.
In this particular case, the landlord is a charity. If even charities are so driven by a profit motive that they are unable to appreciate their duties and obligations to local communities, then we are in a very sad and sorry place.”
Speaking to Cherwell, Strategic Director of the Music Venue Trust Beverley Whitrick emphasised that the landlords themselves used the term “maximising revenue” in discussions.
In response to the allegations made by the Trust, a spokesman for St Michael’s and All Saints’ Charities said: “We are greatly saddened by The Cellar’s closure. At the forefront of the minds of the Charities is the music scene in Oxford.
To this end, we have made considerable changes to our plans for the building, at a cost to us and our beneficiaries, to enable the premises to continue to be used as a music venue.”
Cellar manager Tim Hopkins said: “We are really pleased that Oxford’s music scene is now at the forefront of the landlords’ minds. All that public support to get their initial planning application rejected was not in vain.
We have succeeded in saving the venue from being turned into a store room, and the fact that they want it to remain a live music venue is music to our ears.”