Sheffield protesters decry ‘hostile takeover’ of Leadmill music venue | Sheffield – Gündem Haberleri

Sheffield protesters decry ‘hostile takeover’ of Leadmill music venue | Sheffield

People in Sheffield have protested against what they call a “hostile takeover” of one of the city’s best-known music venues.

About 100 people gathered outside Sheffield town hall on the first of a two-day licensing hearing to decide the future of the Leadmill, which helped launch the careers of Pulp, Arctic Monkeys and Self Esteem.

The hearing will decide whether MVL Properties should be granted a shadow licence to take over from Phil Mills, whose lease ended in March. The director of MVL Properties is Dominic Madden, whose Electric Group owns the 1,150-capacity venue, as well as Electric Brixton and clubs in Newcastle and Bristol.

Mills and his staff have led an impassioned campaign to “save the Leadmill” – backed by celebrities including Eddie Izzard, Blossoms and Kaiser Chiefs – claiming that Madden seeks to “exterminate” the venue, which has been running since 1980.

Their campaign has been marred by controversy, with reports that they offered to pay people £40 to turn up at the protest, and several of the venue’s former senior staff speaking out against Mills. The campaigners said the pay offer was to “ensure the rally is professionally and safely managed”.

Protesters accused Madden of being a “vulture capitalist” and said his takeover would destroy the unique community spirit of the building. “Sheffield really prides itself on its independent music venues, and independent businesses in general, and that’s why we have cities like Sheffield that are full of culture,” said Josh Chaim, 27, one of the protesters.

“If they came and took it over and it became part of a chain, the money wouldn’t stay in Sheffield, it wouldn’t fuel the Sheffield economy. All the profits would just go down to London. Everybody knows that. Everybody knows it’s all about money.”

Madden, who bought the freehold in 2017, says he intends to continue running it as a music venue and to “retain its unique handwriting”, under the new name Electric Sheffield.

He claims he has tried to work with Mills to resolve issues with the venue, but that the leaseholder repeatedly refused to respond to his letters. Mills was served with an eviction notice in March 2022.

“There is an arrogance that sits behind this application,” said Sarah Clover, the barrister representing Mills, at Monday’s hearing.

She claimed Madden was seeking to use his wealth and celebrity connections, developed over 25 years of running music and arts venues, to push through an application that she characterised as “unsafe”.

Numerous safety concerns had been raised about other venues operated by the Electric Group, she said, pointing to newspaper reports of cannabis possession, and of a stabbing outside SWX in Bristol.

She also mentioned Google reviews by members of the public who had attended Electric Brixton, in south London, and NX in Newcastle, which complained that door staff failed to properly check IDs, that they were “aggressive, unprofessional, rude, arrogant”, and that the venue owners consistently oversold events, leading to overcrowding. “It is a consistent theme,” she said. “Mr Madden has a fundamental disregard for safety.”

Twelve members of the public who made individual submissions in support of the Leadmill at the hearing invoked these safety concerns. Dominic Heslop, a Sheffield-based artist who runs the youth poetry programme Slambarz, said the Leadmill was a “safe space” for young people from “precarious backgrounds” and questioned whether that could continue should Madden be granted the licence.

Martin Pickles, the property manager of Scotia Works, an office space that neighbours the Leadmill and whose users include survivors of domestic abuse, said Electric Group had “made no attempt to communicate with us as a local community”, and that he did not have confidence, given the concerns raised by Clover, that the safety of local people would be ensured under Electric Group.

Madden said he respected the passion of local people, but suggested they had been misled.

“The local campaign’s been utterly spirited, and I take my hat off to them, but I think they’ve crossed the line. What’s to stop them sending some kid down to Brixton to write a bad review?” he asked. “All the evidence you’re looking at are unverified Google reviews.”

He said several of the safety issues raised had happened before he took over the three venues.

“I’ve never had, and I’m delighted and proud to say that none of my premises have been subject to review … we have an outstanding track record of compliance,” he said.

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