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Suffolk’s music venues fear coronavirus could cause ‘heartbreaking’ permanent closure

PUBLISHED: 16:30 22 May 2020 | UPDATED: 17:06 22 May 2020

The Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich, where Ed Sheeran performed in 2008, is one of the independent venues trying to fundraise to help secure its future.  Picture: JEN O'NEILL

The Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich, where Ed Sheeran performed in 2008, is one of the independent venues trying to fundraise to help secure its future. Picture: JEN O'NEILL

Jen O'Neill

Two independent businesses in Suffolk are part of a national campaign which hopes to ‘Save Our Venues’ from the devastating impact of Covid-19 – raising money to help support grass roots musicians and keep venues afloat.

The Steamboat in Ipswich has a rich history - with Ed Sheeran regularly performing at the venue before his global fame Picture: Steamboat TavernThe Steamboat in Ipswich has a rich history - with Ed Sheeran regularly performing at the venue before his global fame Picture: Steamboat Tavern

A recent survey by the Music Venue Trust (MVT) found that 554 of its 670 member venues are under threat of “imminent closure” as a result of coronavirus – including the Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich and The Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds.

The two Suffolk venues are both renowned for their live music offerings, with the Steamboat Tavern having previously hosted gigs by a teenage Ed Sheeran before his rise to global fame.

Both venues are crowdfunding for help and are asking for donations to ensure they can “keep the venues alive” and support up and coming musicians here in Suffolk.

Andy Barlow, who has been the landlord of the Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich for the past six years, says it will be “heartbreaking” if his pub is unable to come out the other side of Covid-19, having just undergone a major refurbishment and investing a lot of money into the business.

Jasmine Canham, is an upcoming artist who performed at The Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds Picture: JAN ROBERTSJasmine Canham, is an upcoming artist who performed at The Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds Picture: JAN ROBERTS

Despite a fundraiser not normally being something Andy would opt to do, he said these are “not normal times” and pubs and venues are struggling.

He said the venue needs “every bit of help” they can get to survive and says pubs have been “hit quite hard” by the pandemic, which will have long-haul effects.

There are concerns that these venues won’t be able to attract the same numbers as before the virus hit the UK, but Andy says it is vital to keep the “rich history” of the pub alive.

“In Ipswich there is only ourselves and The Smokehouse which offer alternative live music,” explained Andy. “Lots of musicians work really hard, but they do it for the love of music and they need these grassroot venues to be able to showcase their work.”

The Steamboat Tavern closed back in March, but has since been offering takeaway beer with mini kegs and serving takeaway food on Thursdays and Fridays.

Andy has had to adapt his business massively – with plans in place for a one way system inside the pub when he is allowed to reopen.

He says closure is “not an immediate concern if things ease off”, but if he is unable to reopen until the end of 2020 then he is not sure how the pub will survive.

• You can donate to the Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich here

Meanwhile, Nick Pooley, club manager of The Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds, said he joined the national campaign to raise awareness of how vulnerable the hospitality industry is at this time.

So far the fundraiser has brought in more than £3,000 to help the struggling Hunter Club.

He said: “This is where all the music starts at the grass roots level. That’s how local musicians can end up becoming national stars.”

The Hunter Club usually hosts three events every week and can have up to 15 bands playing.

The venue, like all of those in the hospitality industry, has had to completely close down as a result of the pandemic.

“We are unable to trade at all,” explained Nick. “So it is a huge financial loss.”

Nick said he is using his time wisely to have some refurbishment works done and is looking at when they will be able to open and how they can do so safely.

He said: “We are a music-led business really and it is very difficult to social distance at a gig.

“We have got to see how we can adapt our business to meet these social distancing measures.”

• The Hunter Club’s fundraising page can be found here

More: Almost 50% of Suffolk charities fear they won’t survive coronavirus


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