‘A storm is brewing at The Fleece’

One of Bristol’s most famous music venues is facing a “perfect storm” after its business rates were quadrupled.

The owner of the independent music venue Chris Sharp released the information on social media this week, saying ”the timing felt right”.

There has been an outpouring of reactions on Twitter and Facebook regarding the rate increases.

As a grass roots music venue with no corporate backing, the road ahead is not going to be easy.

”The whole headline of ‘Save The Fleece – they’re about to shut’. We’re not about to shut, we’re fine today, and next week, and next month,” Mr Sharp added.

“But with the way the rates are going to be going up over the next five years, and with everybody moving into the flats, there’s a storm brewing on the road ahead. I can’t guarantee where it’s [The Fleece] going to be in the future.”

The Fleece has recently been re-classified from a pub to a music venue, a fact that Sharp was fighting for.

However, the accurate re-classification has ultimately not bettered their rates.

The rateable value for The Fleece in 2010 was £17,800. For 2017 it’s been increased to £72,000.

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The concerns voiced by The Fleece owner stem from a lack of awareness at how complicated and arduous a process the evaluation office have put in place.

”People need to realise not just how ridiculous the rise is, but how difficult it is to do anything about it,” said Sharp.

On the day that the information about The Fleece was released, the South West Valuation Office Agency published figures stating that only 5,000 businesses in the UK have appealed against their rates, down from 180,000 on the last increase.

Sharp believes that this is because the ”website is incredibly hard to navigate, and that discourages people from appealing.”

Along with public backing and support for the venue, the owne is very much involved with fighting for grass roots club with The Music Venue Trust; ”They are an umbrella group for all the 400/500 grass roots music venues in the UK. We meet every year in London, around October. And go through all the problems music venues face, and have a united front.”

We want to be concentrating on booking bands, giving people a good night out, and having a cultural hub for young artists. But we spend so much time putting out fires everywhere else, you take your eye off the ball.

”We want to be concentrating on booking bands, giving people a good night out, and having a cultural hub for young artists. But we spend so much time putting out fires everywhere else, you take your eye off the ball,” Sharp added.

The Fleece employ around 35 people, and are open seven nights a week. Sharp describes it as a little family, and an anti-corporate business; ”Bill Hicks is my all time favourite comedian. He was always anti-establishment and anti-corporate. And that’s why the first thing I did when I got this venue was I put Bill behind the bar, as a kind of symbol that we’re an independent venue.”

The venue, which brings in two to three thousand people a week through their club nights and gigs, is the only venue in Bristol to have had such a radical increase in its business rates. Sharp said ”No other venue has had more than a 30% rise. What’s so special about us [The Fleece], what have we done wrong?”

Bristol music venues including Thekla, The Louisiana, and Bierkellar have faced their own struggles with surrounding building works, and subsequent noise complaints and fear of closure.

The Fleece will continue to operate and open as usual whilst they look into the situation further.

 

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