Indigo Blue at Matchstick Piehouse. Credit: Matchstick Piehouse Ltd
The bailiffs arrived at Matchstick Piehouse’s door on 16 November. They demanded tens of thousands of pounds immediately, or for the beloved London grassroots venue’s managers to sign over the property on the spot.
It was “intense and frightening” says Sonya Woodruff, one of those venue managers. She’s glad she wasn’t on duty that day. “Luckily, Adam [Gerrett, one of the founders and another manager of the space], who was there, had the resilience to be able to withstand it – not give them anything and not sign anything. If it was me in that situation, I don’t know how I would have handled it.”
Matchstick Piehouse, a community-orientated independent venue and arts space based in the Deptford railway arches, fell into debt with their landlord after Covid. The venue is home to many creatives needing safe spaces to make work, a go-to venue for LGTBQ+ communities and POC communities, but had to close its doors last week after the third party debt collectors were called.
The debt had built up during a period when the venue was out of contract and facing delays in getting a new agreement. Once the new contract was completed, the landlord expected all the back pay at once – a challenge for the small company. They had managed to get a repayment plan in place and thought they were making some progress… until the bailiffs turned up.
“Since then, we’ve taken the decision to close because we didn’t want anyone to have to deal with the bailiffs being there,” says Woodruff. “We basically closed pending communication from the landlord. It took us six days to get a response because we couldn’t even get a phone number for someone who knew why the bailiffs had been called. Luckily with the involvement of Music Venue Trust, we were able to open a dialogue with them which has been more productive, and they’ve made their demands clear.”
Unfortunately, the key demand is that Matchstick Piehouse stump up £36,000 by the end of this week.
They simply don’t have it, says Woodruff, so they reluctantly had to put a call out to their community for financial support. The response was overwhelming. The venue opened a Crowdfunder page and within three days, hundreds of backers had pledged more than £15,000.
“I was so emotional looking at the pledges because so many of these people are event organisers – people we intimately know – and young people,” says Woodruff. “To see them donate quite generous sums of money, especially at this time, it’s been so heart-warming.”
They also put an open call for supporters to join them in a fundraising strategy meeting and now have a cohort of volunteers working on ways to keep the place open. A series of fundraising gigs has been set up to take place next week at the George Tavern, the Colour Factory and the Ivy House [full details below].
Branding itself an “anti-capitalist bar, venue and art space” Matchstick Piehouse has been based in Deptford since 2018. Committed to offering a space for historically underrepresented groups, they host a wide range of events, including queer cabaret, video art nights, folk jam sessions and the weekly gathering of Jazz FM award-winning collective Steam Down.
Woodruff vividly remembers discovering the place. “It was such a such a visceral first experience. I remember walking into the space and being really overwhelmed,” she says.
“It’s a receptacle for a lot of love,” she continues. “It’s a place I really care for and, and I put a lot into it because it feels worth it. It’s really valuable because we give people an opportunity to visualise themselves as they want to be in the creative sector. Especially people with different accessibility needs – be that physical accessibility needs, neurodiversity needs. Or other marginalised groups of people, specifically trans people, people of colour, who aren’t necessarily comfortable asserting themselves in mainstream venues because of the quiet intense involvement of cis straight white men in those spaces.”
Matchstick Piehouse is among the 93% of UK grassroots music venues who are tenants, renting their building from a landlord. The typical operator only has 18 months left of their tenancy, which leaves many at risk of rent increases and eviction. According to Music Venue Trust, the issue of ownership underpins almost all the other challenges faced by grassroots venues, from being forced out due to gentrification to an inability to plan for the future.
Their #ownourvenues campaign has created a new template for the ownership of cultural assets. The Snug in Atherton was the first venue to see its future as a venue assured after being bought by Music Venue Properties, using funds raised through the purchase of ‘community shares’. They aim to roll the scheme out further in the coming months.
This has been “easily the worst year for grassroots music venue closures” since Music Venue Trust was founded in 2014, says the charity’s CEO and founder Mark Davyd. “We have already lost over 120 venues in the last 12 months, and we simply cannot afford to lose any more of this vital community spaces. Matchstick Piehouse has a chance to survive this ongoing crisis and we hope the local community and music fans across the country will get behind this campaign and rescue this essential venue.”
Though she remains hopeful for Matchstick Piehouse’s future, Woodruff acknowledges “a lot of venues haven’t been able to win this fight”. She and her colleagues find strength in community of people – like you, our Venue Watch followers – who are increasingly standing up for their local creative spaces. “People want to engage because they don’t want to live in a society where venues continually have to close. These spaces are extremely important.”
Friday 1 December @ the George Tavern, London | Tickets on sale here Artists TBA
Friday 1 December @ the Colour Factory, London | Tickets on sale here Amor Ante, UrlAmelia, Ri Mistry (Social Records Society), Queer House Party
Wednesday 6 December @ the Ivy House, London | Tickets on sale here Secret Headliner TBA, Dean Rodney Junior & The Cowboys, Ten Minute Tales, Lobby, Lemon Lounge (DJ), Porij (DJ).
Thursday 7 December @ the Ivy House, London | Tickets on sale here Secret Headliner TBA, Special Guests TBA, Rosie Alena, Emma Warren (DJ & Dance Your Way Home Talk), PVA (DJ).
Venue Watch analysis: Matchstick Piehouse, London
By Phil Ryan – musician, writer and entrepreneur
At the risk of beginning to sound like a scratched record, I want to shout the words “sheer unreasoning greed” at the top of my lungs! As I investigate and write about the various Venue Watch grassroots local places under threat, I’m aware I haven’t been to all of them. But this one I have, and I can tell you the Matchstick Piehouse embodies all that is good, important, vital and simply wonderful in a community-led, music performance space.
And I’m sorry to be so blunt, but now it’s obvious that commercial landlords are really turning out to be the villains in so many of these closure issues. We’ve seen the obscene greed race in the private rental sector where, despite landlords’ costs not changing in many cases, they feel able to join the arms race of ‘commercial current rents’. This drives up flat rentals, pricing so many desperate folks out of the market and into homelessness! Just read The Big Issue’s own reports.
Now across the UK we have commercial property landlords happily closing venues left, right and centre, in the pursuit of pure profit at any cost to the local community. This is added to the boom in luxury apartments so often favoured by the huge investment groups that have parasitically infiltrated our housing market. The UK is a money machine for these often offshore, greed-driven, property-owning groups and individuals. Sadly, the government does nothing citing “not wanting to interfere in the market”, which is exactly what they should be doing!
If we lose Matchstick Piehouse, because yet another heartless, soulless landlord wants to make a quick buck, just like Mark and the fabulous team at the Music Venue Trust tell us, we’ll have no UK musical heritage or history left in five years!
Try and bung the campaign a few bob if you can, especially if you’re in the Deptford area or even just a concerned Londoner like me. We have to push back wherever we can. Push your local MP and councillors. Write to them. Email them. Join the fight! Because, believe you me, that’s what it is now.
Musician Phil Ryan has toured with The Animals and is co-founder of The Big Issue and The 12 Bar Club.
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