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COVID-19: Small music venues facing ‘permanent closure’ after ‘catastrophic’ drop in numbers, charity says

Small music venues have seen a "catastrophic" drop in attendance since the government’s Plan B COVID-19 announcement, with some at risk of "permanent closure", a music charity has said.

The Music Venue Trust said attendance at gigs had dropped by 23% in a week, with more than 140,000 no-shows from ticket-holders – resulting in a 27% decline in gross income.

According to a survey of grassroots venues by the organisation, the sector faces losses of nearly £2 million – and it is now calling on culture secretary Nadine Dorries to create a "ring-fenced stabilisation fund" to help.

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It comes after the government announced the Plan B move on 8 December in response to rising cases of coronavirus and the spread of the new Omicron variant, with COVID passes now in force in England.

Beverley Whitrick, strategic director of the MVT, said: "This is the busiest time of the year for grassroots music venues, representing more than 20% of their annual income being raised during the party season.

"Rapid declines in attendance at this time of year represent an exponential threat to the whole sector, and losses of this magnitude cannot be sustained without throwing hundreds of music venues into crisis mode and at risk of permanent closure.

"A ‘no show’ isn’t just lost ticket income, it’s lost bar take and excess staff costs."

Advance ticket sales have also dropped by 27%, the charity found, while some 61% of venues also reported having to cancel at least one event in the week of 6-13 December – the biggest cause being a performer or member of the touring party testing positive for COVID (35.6%).

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The results were compiled from a survey of the Music Venues Alliance – a network of 918 UK grassroots music venues, of which 284 responded.

MVT chief executive Mark Davyd said: "It feels like we are back exactly where we were in March 2020, when confusing government messaging created a ‘stealth lockdown’ – venues apparently able to open but in reality haemorrhaging money at a rate that will inevitably result in permanent closures unless the government acts quickly to prevent it."

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said the cultural, heritage and creative sectors had received "unprecedented" support throughout the pandemic thanks to the culture recovery fund.

"So far, more than £1.3 billion has been allocated to around 5,000 individual organisations and sites," the DCMS spokesperson said.

"Under current plans, the additional £300 million announced in the spring budget is the final allocation of the culture recovery fund and will support organisations through to spring 2022. The fund is currently open for applications, and we will keep the delivery of the programme under active review and consider how best to adapt it in line with the needs of the sector."

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