Music

How tiny music venue The Pit at Newstead revived a former mining community: 'It's a lifeline'

Every week, The Big Issue’s Venue Watch campaign supports and champions grassroots music venues across the UK. This week, we're travelling to just outside Nottingham. When the mine closed, Newstead was devastated. Years on, there was no social space for the village - until music venue The Pit opened

Tony Wright grinning in front of an excited crowd at The Pit Newstead

Terrorvision's Tony Wright has played four time at The Pit Newstead. Photo: courtesy Lorraine Horrocks

Newstead in Nottinghamshire was a bustling village while the mines offered work to the region’s people. Opened in 1874 just a mile from Newstead Abbey – where Lord Byron once lived – the local pit was once one of the most productive in the country. But after it closed in 1987, the area was devastated.

As in so many post-industrial parts of the UK, the echoes are still felt. When the pits closed, it didn’t just mean the loss of employment – it destroyed the entire local economy and social support structure. “There was absolutely nothing for adults to do,” says local woman Lorraine Horrocks.

A little over seven years ago, Horrocks was sitting over a drink with a friend, bemoaning the state of their village, when they came up with a plan. “My friend said, ‘Why don’t you open a pub?’” It took a bit of a battle with the local authority, a lot of elbow grease, and backing from the whole community – but Horrocks is now the proud landlady behind The Pit at Newstead, an intimate grassroots music venue housed in a former sports pavilion.

The Pit was nominated for Venue Watch by grateful patron Lee Herring, who wrote to tell us that it’s “doing lovely things in its former mining community”. Herring added, “A stone’s throw from scenic Newstead Abbey and some beautiful parks, the venue in Newstead village does great charity events and community get-togethers… not to mention regular nights featuring touring and grassroots artists playing blues, punk, folk and rock, often with a political message.”

The Pit “is an absolute lifeline” says Horrocks. “The place was just totally socially isolated before. Without it, we’d be back to square one here. It’s much more than just the music, it is the other value that it gives.”

In an area of deprivation where “people that have lived here historically, some of them don’t even leave the village” the venue gives residents the chance to access culture on their doorstep. “It introduces people to new experiences. You can’t quantify that,” says Horrocks.

In the last couple of years, the venue has hosted gigs by the likes of Terrorvision frontman Tony Wright (a repeat visitor) and singer-songwriter – and sometime member of Squeeze – Nick Harper. People came from as far afield as Edinburgh to see Harper in the 60-capacity space, says Horrocks. “Nick was just spinetingling and mesmerising, and just an absolutely amazing guy as well. I was lucky enough to spend a little bit of time with him after the gig. It was just a very special evening.”

It’s an example of how The Pit “brings people into the area and puts Newstead on the map”, Horrocks adds. “And that’s valuable for all the little businesses – for the corner shop, for the for the Nepalese restaurant, the local B&B. People come, they stay overnight, they spend locally. And so, it’s a little boost to the local economy.”

a smiling man and woman
The Pit at Newstead’s Lorraine Horrocks and singer Nick Harper. Photo: courtesy Lorraine Horrocks

The Pit is packed for most of their gigs, says Horrocks. But they’re not immune to the money worries of people in the community and the challenges facing all grassroots music venues. “We’ve found it’s more difficult recently,” Horrocks admits. “We sell out the shows but, obviously, these artists come at a cost. That has traditionally been subsidised from the bar. Our bar take is down by around 25%. So, the audience is there but everyone’s got to be more cautious with money these days.”

Most of the UK’s grassroots music venues operate on a razor’s edge. According to the latest Music Venue Trust figures, the sector as a whole runs on a profit margin of 0.2%. It’s no surprise, then, that we’ve lost 125 venues in the last year. Even long-standing, beloved favourites are not immune, as the closure of Bath’s iconic venue Moles showed last week.

As a “one-woman band”, the pressure falls on Horrocks. It has naturally had an impact on her mental health. “When you’re looking week to week, and you get a week in deficit – you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, I hope next week will be better’,” she says. “I’ve got a couple of staff as well. It takes its toll on everyone.

“I understand the issues regarding the importance of grassroots venues for developing the artists of the future. But obviously there are implications on the people running them too. I can’t deny it is difficult and sometimes getting yourself out of bed in the morning and getting motivated to keep cracking on can be daunting.”

So why does she keep going? Why is she still fighting to bring the music to Newstead? “When I set out to create The Pit, it was about creating something for adults where they were welcomed, regardless, and after a gig you just feel that you’ve achieved that,” she grins. “People leave happy and that’s what it’s all about.”

Buy tickets for gigs at The Pit at Newstead here. Remember, this is the best way you can show your support for any grassroots music venue!

Find out how to join Venue Watch – and nominate your own favourite grassroots music venue – here.

The Pit family - a diverse crowd under bunting
The Pit grassroots family. Photo: Martin Borret

Venue Watch analysis: The Pit, Newstead

By Phil Ryan – musician, writer and entrepreneur

If any place ever proves the importance of a grassroot venue in a community then The Pit is a perfect example. The ingenuity and tenacity of Lorraine Horrocks shows just how some remarkable people can bring a community together through a small bar and some music.

I love the idea that Nick Harper played there – he played for me back in the Nineties when I ran The 12 Bar Club in London’s Denmark Street when we were the must-play venue for so many of the UK’s leading performers. I know how Lorraine must have felt: take a packed room, an incredibly gifted, warm and witty performer like Nick and – well – you get something very special. You get a few drinks, a bite to eat and then totally transported for hours with an outstanding artist, you get an intimate and moving set of songs that can both make you laugh and the next minute break your heart. You only get this in a small grassroots music venue.

If you’ve ever had a night like this, you’ll know exactly what I mean. And as we constantly point out – sadly, every small venue is feeling the cost of living crisis very deeply and so many are now virtually surviving almost week to week. Hence The Big Issue’s Venue Watch calls for council and government recognition of these vital pieces of community fabric – they need funding and, equally as importantly, protection!

So, just to return to what a grassroots venue can do inside a community – look at the places we’ve been featuring here in Venue Watch – ones that help soup kitchens, support and enable marginalised groups, that give both safe and uplifting performance spaces for youngsters – the list goes on. Well, there’s a hidden impact. And that’s mental health and wellbeing for thousands of folks across the country, and to be honest you really can’t put a price on that.

Finally here’s a compelling economic argument for official intervention. Just Google the words ‘crisis in small music venues UK’ and this is what you get: 125 venues have shut their doors for live music in the last 12 months, 15.7% of all such spaces in the UK. It represents the loss of 4,000 jobs, 14,250 events, 193,230 performance opportunities, £9 million of income for musicians, and £59 million in lost direct economic activity. Wow!!!

The various bodies like Music Venue Trust who have researched and collated all these figures, and those trying to help everyone in this industry now at threat of joblessness – Help Musicians, The Musicians Union, Music Minds Matter, Music Support – know these numbers. But without a unified, UK-wide, government-supported financial support package plan we’re looking at worse figures in 2024. So, join The Big Issues Venue Watch Campaign and add your voice to the cause.

Musician Phil Ryan has toured with The Animals and is co-founder of The Big Issue and The 12 Bar Club.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Jingoism of Rule, Britannia! has long felt shameful. Is it finally time for BBC Proms to axe it?
A 1990s BBC Proms in the Park concert
Music

Jingoism of Rule, Britannia! has long felt shameful. Is it finally time for BBC Proms to axe it?

Zayn Malik: 'I wanted to forge my own path, write my own story and see the world'
Exclusive

Zayn Malik: 'I wanted to forge my own path, write my own story and see the world'

Zayn Malik speaks on new music, home city Bradford and identity: 'I'm a very Northern man'
Music

Zayn Malik speaks on new music, home city Bradford and identity: 'I'm a very Northern man'

'It's always a good time for music somewhere': Kae Tempest talks 80s unrest and new drama This Town
Kae Tempest
Music

'It's always a good time for music somewhere': Kae Tempest talks 80s unrest and new drama This Town

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know