Updated: Dec 17, 2020
“Why are grassroots vital? In a nutshell, everybody has to start somewhere!”
Andy Hillion has been involved with the Brunswick Pub for over a decade, starting out as assistant manager in 2008 when the establishment was hosting “two to three gigs each week.”
Over time its live music programme has increased- now hosting more than 500 events across two stages in 2019 alone- so as COVID and the subsequent lockdown came, the impact was catastrophic.
Hillion explained: “To have this quantity of programming stopped dead in its tracks overnight was absolutely devastating. As the months went by, the looming uncertainty of the future of the venue was even worse.”
As general manager, he now faces the challenge of keeping the venue alive following an unsuccessful application for the government’s cultural recovery fund.
Being one of the 30 venues most at risk, he described how difficult a period this has been for all involved with the hospitality and entertainment industry.
“Just because our doors were firmly shut did not mean that the bills stopped,” he noted.
“We whole-heartedly congratulate everybody that received funding, but unfortunately many venues were not eligible for the funding or were rejected for funding, such as ourselves.
“Sadly, it is very likely that there will be a lot of venues that will not be able to maintain enough momentum to see them through these unprecedented times.”
And it's not just the establishment itself which has been affected by the closure, Hillion explained the pub utilises local suppliers and breweries that have also seen a decrease in sales across the board.
He added: “Although I am disheartened by the current circumstances, I am also acutely aware of how many other people our situation directly affects.”
“Obviously there are our staff who we have tried to look after throughout, we have teams of sound and lighting engineers who have had their regular incomes halted.
“Then of course all of the musicians, artists and promoters who use our venue to put on shows have received little or no financial help throughout this pandemic.”
Brunswick takes pride in giving opportunities for emerging artists and Hillion highlighted without grassroots support, many wouldn’t have their first chances at performing live.
These introductory shows are the ones that most musicians would agree in saying they never forget.
Despite the negatives, Hillion reckons that this period has ultimately forced venue owners to adapt their offerings and put greater measures in place to protect their businesses.
Other forms of income such as live streaming, merchandise and take-away/delivery services all increase the viability of venues across the whole industry, which “can only be a good thing.”
The Brunswick will continue to fight on!!
Like Rafael Pesce at Spiritual, Hillion praised the work Music Venue Trust and described CEO Mark Davyd as “one of the most passionate and hard-working people I have ever come across.”
He went on to say that without their support the pub probably wouldn't still be fighting on at this stage and that MVT have gone above and beyond to help.
As well as this, the support from fans, customers & performers has been “humbling and joyful” equating to over £11,000 raised on their crowdfunding page.
He said: “In day-to-day venue life, it is very easy to get bogged down in the negative stuff whether it be the odd problem customers or water pouring from a ceiling when a pipe bursts.
“However, it’s lovely to know that people appreciate what we do as a venue and that they appreciate if grassroots venues were not around, the world would be a worse place. We are forever indebted to everyone who has supported us.”
Looking ahead, Hillion admitted the next few months are “worrying” but his will power shinesd through and with Brighton being classed as tier 2 at least the pub is able to open its doors over the festive season.
He concluded: “We just have to remain reactive to the new rules and regulations, we have to get some money in the till to push through to more normal times.
“We have received strong vocal support from MP's Caroline Lucas & Peter Kyle as well as from our local Councillor Phelim MacCafferty. It's great that we have these people on our side and appreciative of the benefits that grassroots venues provide our city.
"Hopefully they can continue to fight our corner at a higher level and we can see everyone next year!"