The Ferret: Preston’s iconic music venue could be saved thanks to a community sharing plan
Le Ferret is one of nine concert spaces nationwide in which locals – and the music industry itself – are urged to buy stock in order to ensure they are not left behind. at the mercy of the owners who own the buildings from which they operate.
The Fylde Road venue – where artists including Ed Sheeran appeared early in their careers – went on the market in March and is being promoted as ripe for conversion to residential use.
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In an effort to keep the much-loved scene from going silent, the operators of The Ferret applied for – and were granted last week – special status which means the planned sale must be put on hold for six months in order to give a community group the chance to buy it.
The Post can now reveal that The Ferret is taking part in a pilot scheme which aims to raise £3.5million to allow a newly formed organization to buy and protect in perpetuity a handful of like-minded businesses across the country.
Music Venue Properties (MVP) is a community-based charity that was set up by the Music Venue Trust (MVT), the body that seeks to support the grassroots music industry.
He is today launching a community equity issue in a bid to raise the funds to buy The Ferret and eight other venues.
Matt Fawbert, managing director of The Ferret, told the Post that if MVP was able to take possession of the building, it would “remove the worry” that businesses would be evicted from his home when his lease expires next year. next – and would continue to provide a crucial platform for the next generation of talent, as it has since opening as The Mad Ferret in 2006.
“Le Ferret is a place where people learn and hone their skills. We have people who have just started playing guitar or singing – and they can try a little bit of mic and then they could move on to another band or go solo or be a support act.
“And climbing the ladder like that makes us a really good starting point for anyone getting into the industry.
“It’s a volatile business, but we’re often a stepping stone to the next step, even for mid-level bands playing big festivals or touring the world. It’s a great time for them – and we’re always happy to see them move on to bigger and better things.
“This plan would give us a little more security in terms of investment for the future. It’s always in the back of your mind when you’re investing in the building that it’s not our place.
“We would still be renting it out, but from a friendly owner who wanted to keep it as a long term hangout. A private landlord isn’t there to maintain a concert hall, they’re just there to lease the property – and we understand that. But that doesn’t give us any security,” Matt explained.
Under the MVP initiative, anyone can invest, provided they can buy a minimum of £200 worth of shares – or £100 for those under 25. The recommended ideal sum for the average shareholder is £500, but large investors can invest up to £100,000, or even more in some cases.
Although there is no guarantee of return, the aim is to start paying 3% interest on investments from the second year. However, MVP stresses that the community stocks he will issue are “fully at risk” – meaning people shouldn’t invest money they can’t afford to lose.
The share issue is expected to be open for six months and the money raised will be put into a pot to buy the nine sites that form the pilot. This means investors will get shares in the larger MVP program, rather than The Ferret itself.
Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, explains that the practical reason for this approach is that it would be difficult to raise enough funds locally to buy each of the venues as stand-alone entities.
It’s also why he’s calling for “an alliance” between local communities who value venues on their doorsteps and the £5.8billion music industry – for which, he says, places like The Ferret should be considered equally important.
“We’re the bottom rung of a great pyramid where at the top you have people like Ed Sheeran and Adele.
“I don’t think it’s impossible to imagine that through this pyramid there are enough companies, agents, managers and artists making enough money [to help us to raise] the incredibly tiny percentage we need to protect, first, these nine sites – and then hundreds more.
“But we also really want people in each of these places to be part of the shareholder democracy that we’re creating.
“Across the UK there is a huge community [of live music supporters]. We saw this during Covid, when we raised £4.1million to distribute to venues for audiences who were simply worried that their local venue would close.
“But I think everyone in our industry understands that it’s not just their local site that matters. If The Ferret was the only one we saved, there still wouldn’t be any touring bands – we need a network.
“We’re trying to raise £3.5million to protect the bottom rung of the ladder that provides all this talent,” Mark told the Post.
The six-month moratorium on the sale of The Ferret – conferred by the Community Value Asset status Preston City Council awarded it last week – has come just in time.
The site was not meant to be included in the pilot, but the Post understands that it is one of the sites likely to receive the highest purchasing priority if the initial MVP community sharing issue n did not increase the total amount needed to buy everything. nine buildings. The Ferret is on the market with a price tag of £795,000.
Matt Fawbert hopes Preston City Council can ‘get involved’, to some extent, to help secure the future of the venue – although the authority said it was unable to comment at this stage when she was approached by the Post.
Matt says that because The Ferret only takes up part of the building that MVP ultimately hopes to buy, there’s room to create a larger hub for the city’s creative community at the site.
“We had all kinds of brainstorming sessions. There is room for larger performance space and the potential for theater space, music studios, practice rooms or arts studios.
“A general community center built around creativity and music – that would be the dream, but it wouldn’t happen overnight and would require a lot of investment.
“[Music Venue Properties] is a great program – and they’re targeting it at music fans and ethical investors.
“But we have already had offers from people saying they would participate [to help buy the building] – well, that’s the thing to make it happen,” Matt said.
Community stock issues are an established concept, but shares in a community charity work in a different way than those held in businesses. They do not attract dividends and cannot be sold.
Instead, shares can be withdrawn – but each year the company’s board will need to consider whether it can afford such withdrawals and, if so, how many, the share offering document explains. of MVP.
Mark Davyd says he thinks the program will hit the right note in places like Preston, both with people who love the music – and where they live.
“I think people are incredibly convinced that Preston needs The Ferret.
“Owners want to make a profit from the properties they own and that’s a perfectly reasonable position – I just want them to do that outside of the music industry.
“[This scheme] will give The Ferret the chance to do the best job possible – putting on the best artists they can find and supporting the local community, as they already do.
“They can acquire permanent ownership [of their building] – This will never sell. Long after my departure and the departure of the current operators of The Ferret, there will always be a Ferret in Preston run by the people who inherited it and all it stands for.”
Meanwhile, Matt says the venue may eventually have the opportunity to stage more established acts for an in-town audience, like when The Buzzocks played there recently, but he added that the focus will still remain on the background music and small touring bands that helped make a name for The Ferret – and vice versa. Catfish and the Bottlemen and IDLES are just two of those who played there early in their careers.
“We always try to reach young groups from places like Cardinal Newman College. It’s great to see a young audience who really love their homies’ band, come out and support them. That was me in the late 90s and it’s good to see it continuing.
“Popular Music Rooms are the research and development department of the music industry – it’s where ideas are tested and refined.
“It may be more important than we sometimes think. In the grand scheme of things, it’s just a place where certain people can play music – we don’t want to get ideas above our station.
“But we think it’s important for the music industry.”
35 percent – proportion of popular music venues that have closed in the past 20 years
93 percent – proportion of local music venues whose operators are tenants
18 months – average remaining lease term of popular concert halls in the country
15 million – total annual audiences in basic music venues
12,000 – number of jobs in basic music places
Source: Music Venues Trust
PSST, YOU WANT TO BUY A MUSIC ROOM?
Share offer summary for concert hall properties:
£200 – minimum share subscription for more than 25 years
£100 – minimum share subscription for those under 25
£500 – share subscription recommended
3 percent – scheduled interest payments from the second year of investment
Source: Music Venues Trust