Collective Futures | Future Yard

Collective Futures

Collective Futures

Collective Futures was a one-day symposium that took place at Future Yard February 2023, designed to celebrate and explore Community Music Venues and the role they play in local neighbourhoods across the UK. Led by Future Yard and Sister Midnight, it was an opportunity to understand how Community Music Venues are structured, their financial models and the impact they have in communities.

Collective Futures is here to bring together current and ‘would-be’ Community Music Venues from across the UK in a solidarity network, to collaborate, share knowledge and approaches. It is for those working in and supporting communities, to understand the role Community Music Venues play and the impact they can have in towns and cities. It is for those who love live music and are passionate about ensuring we have thriving, sustainable music venues across the UK.

The first Collective Futures symposium, on 24th February 2023, featured contributors from organisations such as Music Venue Trust, Independent Venue Week, Arts Council England, Band On The Wall, Nesta, Youth Music, Unconvention, Regenda, Livv Investment, The Community Shares Company, MagentaKindred, Plunkett Foundation, Crowdfunder and Co-Operatives UK. Across a number of discussions and workshops, the symposium focused on key aspects of what makes a Community Music Venue: community-led programming, building scenes, creating (and measuring) meaningful community engagement, placemaking – and the various funding models needed to achieve these goals.

The daytime symposium was followed by an evening show, headed up by Goat Girl. The award-winning quartet graduated through the grassroots open mic and music scene of South London, making particular use of the Brixton Windmill as a sounding board. Goat Girl – with two albums on legendary British label Rough Trade under their belts – are closely aligned with Sister Midnight (guitarist Lottie Pendlebury is a director of Sister Midnight), making them the perfect artists to round off the event. The show also featured support from Merseyside-based artists Trout (groove-laden angsty grunge) and Thalia’s Grace (distortion-heavy alt. rock).

“Community Music Venues are a vital part of the UK’s cultural landscape, and we want more of them. Collective Futures is an exciting opportunity to strengthen and formalise the network between existing community venues, funders and key stakeholders in the community business sector. We want to connect all those who have a role to play in the growth of cultural community infrastructure, and facilitate skills and knowledge sharing so that more people across the UK feel supported and empowered to bring more Community Music Venues into existence.” Lenny Watson, Sister Midnight

Future Yard and Sister Midnight are ideally placed to bring these discussions together, both operating in this ever-changing world during a tumultuous past few years. Sister Midnight was established in Deptford in 2018, and quickly became an important part of the local music scene as a place where people could come together in celebration of South East London’s music culture. Having been forced to move out of that space during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have just raised £260,000 via a community crowdfunding campaign to help them open Lewisham’s first community-owned live music venue.

Future Yard had similarly auspicious beginnings, opening in 2020 during the height of COVID-19 restrictions. After months of waiting and building, the venue and artist hub opened on Argyle Street in Birkenhead, with the dual mission of becoming the first carbon neutral grassroots music venue in the North of England and of shaping a new music future for Birkenhead.

“No Community Music Venue is the same, each responds to the unique characteristics, needs and dynamics of the community they serve. Collective Futures is an opportunity to hear from Community Music Venues who have embraced this model, share successes, challenges, structures and impacts. We believe there should be a Community Music Venue in every town and city in the UK, working collaboratively in solidarity with similar venues across the country. Collective Futures is the start of that vision.” Craig G Pennington, Future Yard

Community Music Venues reimagine the role of a traditional music venue, providing a transformational opportunity for local people and places. Through community-led programming, training, development and neighbourhood activities, they play the role of a key anchor institution in a place, reimagine what their town means in the world and create life-changing opportunities in the process.

Community Music Venues are accountable to – and often owned by – the community they’re at the heart of. Numerous structures exist, including Community Benefit Societies, Co-Operatives, Community Interest Companies; but the core premise is consistent: Community Music Venues exist to benefit their local neighbourhoods, not shareholders.

And ideally not absent landlords either. Grassroots Music Venues are the R&D department of the UK music industry, a sector worth over £5bn to the UK economy. 94% of these venues do not own their own building, with most operating on short term, precarious leases. Which other major sectors have an R&D department structured in this way?

Community Music Venues provide a model to address this, with alternative approaches providing access to investment and funding. But through their structure and activities, the relationship they develop with local communities is fundamentally deeper, more profound and more sustainable.

Music Venues have been closing at an alarming rate in recent years, as the pressures of gentrification in urban centres, lack of access to investment and changing audience behaviours were exacerbated by COVID-19. The cost of living crisis has provided the latest, seemingly grave challenge.

If Music Venues are to thrive and take their place at the heart of local communities, we need to embrace new approaches. Collective Futures is the start of this vision.