I run tiny gig venue and am worried about future with Co-op Live opening and AO Arena already in Manchester

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"They charge £8 for a pint of Strongbow. I don’t know how they get away with."

It's just a couple of weeks until Manchester's new Co-op Live arena opens to much fanfare.

Peter Kay has been given the honour of the first two nights with Take That, Liam Gallagher and more to follow in the first few months. Rachel Flaszczak's life as company director at The Snug in Atherton, is a world away from what will become the UK's largest indoor arena.

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By day, The Snug is a community coffee shop and at the weekend, it is transformed into a 100-capacity music venue. Six months ago, it was bought by a new initiative to save music venues called Music Venue Properties, created within Music Venue Trust. 

Rachel Flaszczak is company director at The Snug in AthertonRachel Flaszczak is company director at The Snug in Atherton
Rachel Flaszczak is company director at The Snug in Atherton | The Snug

Recently, MVT shared Reading and Leeds and Glastonbury line-up posters with all acts who came though grassroots venues removed. On the Reading & Leeds poster, just three acts remained. With Co-op Live ready to open and compete with the AO Arena, Rachel has a warning.

“Those images are a simple way of showing people that without these small music venues there won’t be anyone to play the big venues," she says. "There’ll be no future for these arenas if they don’t look after the grassroots.” 

Another big arena in town is likely to make life harder for places like The Snug, Rachel believes.

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“They charge £100 plus a ticket, like Co-op Live, so people are paying top price for the tickets," she adds. "Is it because they are paying so much for this ticket that their budget for the month is wiped out? They can’t go and watch grassroots bands because they’ve just paid £120 to see a gig at a big venue. I think this is a knock-on effect, people only have so much disposable income. 

“The arena gigs are selling out, when they go on sale there’s rarely tickets left. The VIP packages are being bought too. You go to AO Arena and they charge £8 for a pint of Strongbow. I don’t know how they get away with charging this. There are loads of grassroots venues around Manchester and these new venues are not considering the music scene around them."

Co-op Live is due to open with a Peter Kay gig on April 23. Co-op Live is due to open with a Peter Kay gig on April 23.
Co-op Live is due to open with a Peter Kay gig on April 23. | LDRS

An Government inquiry into grassroots music venues saw MPs told that a ticket levy could allow more funds to filter down to venues like The Snug, which was music to Rachel's ears.  

 “It would be amazing if we could get funding for the bands we have on," she says. "Even if it was just the artistic costs, that would give us so much scope to improve our programming and would allow us to get in more acts that would bring in a wider audience. We want to represent all different genres of music that would also help cover underrepresented groups of people. Just becoming that safe space that welcomes everybody. 

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"All I would want if the levy comes through and the money filters down is this. That would lift a huge weight off our shoulders knowing that everyone is paid fairly. We are a CIC, not for profit, and everything we make would go back into the community to provide more jobs, more work experience and become a real creative hub in the community.”

The levy would mean that The Snug could get more bands playing, as at the moment they are limited to Saturday nights and a club event on Fridays. They have a videographer recording each gig to give the emerging bands something to take away with eight or nine cameras making a live edit on the night.

“We would love to put more on, like a Thursday night gig, but we can’t afford this yet," Rachel says. "With everything, you need to give it six months to let people know about it but at present we don’t have that disposable income that would allow us to do that. If the funding came through, it would allow us to operate on more evenings that would give more job opportunities and more chances for people to play their music here.” 

The team at The SnugThe team at The Snug
The team at The Snug | The Snug

The future of The Snug looked uncertain up until recently due to the venue’s landlord wanting to sell up. Rachel and the team reached out to a new venture for help.  

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“We spoke to Music Venue Trust to see if there was anything they could help us with," she says. "Luckily they were working on a project called ‘Own Our Venues’, there were eight other venues that were at risk of closure so we were put into this campaign too. They sorted a crowdfunder and raised the awareness and through this Music Venue Properties was formed. 

“We’ve now got a 15-year lease and it was a massive relief signing it. We are safe to go on doing what we do best, booking bands and running as a coffee shop. We’re also facing the troubles of keeping this running. There’s the added pressure of succeeding for the next 15 years. 

“Luckily we’ve got landlords now who are in this for their love of music. MVP is made up of musicians and people who have been involved with music venues in the past. We know we are in good hands with likeminded people but at the same time, they can’t control what we pay in terms of bills, overhead and wages. It’s really difficult. 

“I described it the other day as being like an ever decreasing pie that everyone wants a slice of. We just about break even, but all it takes is one issue that costs a fortune and this will knock us back. We’re very much on the bottom line all the time.

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“Our ticket prices are usually £5 and when we’ve got a band on we still struggle to sell all the tickets. People are still not ready to come out again, a lot of things have changed since Covid-19. We don’t see the crowds we used to but it's still in demand, people still want to come to the gigs. We struggle to get people to come out and buy the tickets but I think this is more linked with the cost of living crisis.” 

The Shackites playing at The Snug on March 23 (Photo: Shot By Court)The Shackites playing at The Snug on March 23 (Photo: Shot By Court)
The Shackites playing at The Snug on March 23 (Photo: Shot By Court) | Shot By Court

What have AO Arena and Co-op Live said?

A spokesperson for the AO Arena said: “At AO Arena, we know that grassroots venues, artists and communities form the building blocks to the success of arenas like ours. We’re incredibly proud of the work that we do to ensure we’re actively supporting the longevity of grassroots musicians and the live ecosystem across Manchester and beyond.”

 “We’re a founding member of Beyond The Music conference in Manchester which champions the live industry from grassroots up. We’ve pledged our continued support to Music Venue Trust and as part of this we’ve been raising funds through various platforms, providing emerging artists with opportunities to play on our stage via Apply To Play, offered venue marketing support to independent local venues with a fantastic response including Band On The Wall, New Century Hall and The Snug in Atherton, and much more - this will continue to expand.”

Co-op Live were approached by ManchesterWorld for a comment, but believed the issue was industry wide and therefore not specific to Co-op Live, with other bodies best placed to comment.

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