Own Our Venues

The Music Venue Trust explain their new venue ownership scheme

Working quickly to head off a tsunami of existential threats to grassroots music venues, the Music Venue Trust now seeks to usher in a new community-ownership model to preserve the future of some of our beloved live institutions. We spoke to the MVT’s founder and CEO Mark Davyd to find out more.

The scale of the strife that the COVID pandemic brought upon the UK’s venues was unprecedented. As the live sector dealt with this unexpected calamity, the narrow tightrope that many small venues currently walk was brought into sharp focus.

The truth is, that the grassroots venue infrastructure has been facing a multitude of ongoing threats for at least the past decade. Menaced by urban development, noise issues and the shifting sands of an ever-amorphous industry, the venue network has been crying out for ever greater support and investment. Established in 2014, in response to these many tribulations – and now, post-Covid, more driven than ever to preserve the health of this grassroots lifeblood, the Music Venue Trust seeks to secure the future for over 900 venues across the whole of the United Kingdom.

With a Board of Trustees made up of some of the industry’s biggest grassroots champions, the MVT team has launched a new initiative designed to bring venues into a protected ownership model. Dubbed Music Venue Properties, this community-based structure for freehold ownership will minimise the often crippling costs and compromises that venues frequently have to navigate to keep afloat.

We caught up with the Music Venue Trust’s founder and CEO, Mark Davyd, to learn more about this new initiative. We began by asking what, pandemic-aside, the major factors had been behind a third of the UK’s grassroots venues closing over the last two decades. “A raft of immediately obvious causes (noise complaints, development, gentrification, licensing issues, financial model) all sit underneath the underlying cause; that 93% of these venues are operated under a tenancy agreement which fundamentally undermines their sustainability, resilience and profitability.” Details Mark, “If we can resolve the issue of ownership, it would strengthen every other aspect of their resilience to these challenges.”

So, just how will Music Venue Properties keep them insulated from neglect, and what will the MVT do to ensure the venues’ health long-term? “The venues acquired by Music Venue Properties will be placed into a permanently protected model of ownership which is benevolent by purpose: The aim of the benevolent owner will be the same as the venue operator, that great music needs a place to thrive and this building is that place in this community.” Davyd tells us, “Ownership under this model reduces rent, increases investment, and changes the entire intention of the lease agreement from ‘what profit can I make from this building’ to ‘how can we best use this building for great music in this community’”


Music Venue Trust founder and CEO Mark Davyd



As a Charitable Community Benefit Society, the scheme is able to generate its funds from members of its community buying shares. When purchasing these shares, everyday people actively help the scheme to raise the required costs needed to acquire the venues’ freeholds. So, while the supporting of music lay at the heart of this scheme, the idea of more collective-ran bodies such as this is also enticing for those wanting to have input in how venues are ran. “Anyone can buy shares in Music Venue Properties” Says Mark, “They also become an investor in the Own Our Venues project. MVP will use their investments to buy properties, securing the value of their investment against the properties it acquires. These buildings are then rented out at preferential rates to venue operators who can deliver music to their communities. The rent is used to provide a small return to the investors, estimated at 3% per annum, to reinvest into the fabric of the buildings and improve them over time.”

In principle then, this dynamic should naturally lead to a self-sustaining model for all-too-frequently neglected venues. It’s a lesson that the MVT has adopted after seeing it deployed in other sectors, as Mark details; “This concept of community ownership is not new, and has been used to protect post offices, pubs and other community assets. What’s new is that we have taken that idea and expanded it, from a local community to a national community of music lovers. Everyone in that national community has an interest in making sure grassroots music venues survive and thrive, and with this investment opportunity we are giving them a chance to become a stakeholder in making that happen.”

While the specific plans are initially focused on nine specific venues, Mark reveals that the Trust has aspirations to radically re-shape the grassroots industry by the decade’s end. “Right now, we are focused on the first nine. How we achieve it, who invests, how quickly it is done will all decide what happens next. Our aim is to remove over a quarter of the grassroots music venues in the UK from the commercial ownership model and into permanently protected status by 2030.”


But, as Mark is all too aware. the clock is constantly ticking, and new threats grow by the day. Take the recent closure of Nambucca  – one of the most cherished firmaments for London’s new artist scene. The Holloway Road institution closed in May of this year, largely down to the inability to combat mounting bills hitting the small 300-capacity venue from every direction. “The closure of Nambucca reinforces everything we have been saying.” Mark says, “That venue, which is an iconic space for so many artists, simply would not have closed under our proposed model of benevolent ownership. That’s all anyone needs to know about how to solve these problems permanently. When we own the buildings, these closures won’t happen.”


Music Venue Trust
The Nambucca’s recent closure underlines the issues currently faced by grassroots venues

With the future being so uncertain, Mark remains positive that, in spite of the issues exacerbated by the pandemic, the team’s collective spirit will usher in a brighter tomorrow for the grassroots world. “There’s a multitude of challenges from the return of noise complaints to gentrification, transport, staffing, changing audience behaviour. All of these are things we will need to react to with more work by Music Venue Trust and by the sector acting together and sharing the burden of the changes we need to make. But ultimately we have to find the time to be proactive, to make radical change that impacts across all these problems. That means Own Our Venues. Get that right, and it gives support to everything else.”

You can become an investor in Music Venue Properties here

Head here to read more about the Music Venue Trust