Coronavirus: Grassroots Islington music venues in fight for survival amid ‘devastating’ Covid-19 lockdown

The Lexington in Pentonville Road, King's Cross. Picture: Archant

The Lexington in Pentonville Road, King's Cross. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Grassroots music venues in Islington are struggling to survive the “devastating” effects of the Covid-19 lockdown – and warn the UK’s culture will be diminished if they go bust.

The Lexington in Pentonville Road and Slim Jim’s Liquor Store in Upper Street are among scores of live music venues across the country crowdfunding to try and pay their rents and staff during the lockdown, which was declared on March 23.

Both are part of the Music Venue Trust’s #SaveOurVenues campaign, which warns 556 grassroots venues are at risk of imminent closure due to the lockdown.

The Lexington has been paying £25,000 a month in rent while closed during lockdown, and it has also been topping up all its furloughed staff’s wages, which would otherwise be 20% less than usual.

The government’s job retention scheme allows employers to furlough employees, by claiming for a grant of 80% of their monthly wages capped at £2,500.

The Lexington has so far raised more than £61,000 in the past 27 days via its crowdfunding page

Marcus Harris, who runs the Lexington, says the venue was hit by a 45% rent increase a few weeks months before the UK went into lockdown, and said: “We have probably in the last few years had our rent go up about 150%.”

He told the Gazette: “Live music venues are where culture is born, so to lose them at the smallest level is going to have the biggest knock on effect for culture all the way up the chain. This has been going on for 15 years now, the erosion of cultural spaces, And I think [the Covid-19 lockdown] has been the accelerant on an already massive fire. This is going to kill a lot of small music venues.

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Marcus says the Lexington is only benefiting from rates relief and isn’t eligible for other government support packages.

He added: “Thank you for everyone who has donated and who has helped keep the venue afloat during this crisis. Every penny we can raise going forward will go to topping up wages and making sure we have a venue to reopen when it’s safe to do so.”

Slim Jim’s Liquor Store is also crowdfunding but has so far raised just £150 towards its £10,000 target.

A statement on its crowdfunding page says: “Over the years, Slims has put on 100’s of live events, most of them for free. We’ve never really made any money from our live music events, we do it mainly out of passion... live music, and rock’n’roll in particular, is in our DNA.

But now, our venue faces closure, because of the devastating impact the COVID-19 crisis is having across the wider economy, and on the hospitality sector in particular. Even when the lockdown ends, bars and venues will be forced to operate under strict ‘social distancing’ rules, perhaps operating a only 20-25% of capacity, which is simply uneconomical for the majority of businesses.

So, reluctantly, we’re asking you, our loyal customers, to help ensure that Slims is still around in six months time, and still putting on great live music.”

Amy Lame said “London’s grassroots music venues are being hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis. But they are going to be so important in bringing us back together. We must make sure they survive. Whether you’re artist or fan, support you local venue.