THE manager of Oxford city centre’s last independent gig venue has confirmed that the venue has permanently closed– though hopes it may return as a space for live music.

The Cellar in Frewin Court, off Cornmarket, closed its doors at the weekend, signing off with a party for supporters on Friday night and live music and a final club night on Saturday.

Supporters, who had backed a huge crowdfunding appeal to save it, had hoped it was a temporary measure, but, in a statement, manager Tim Hopkins said no agreement had been reached with landlords St Michael’s and All Saints’ Charities over a rent hike, and, consequently, the lights were going out.

He said: “We are very sad to inform you that The Cellar closed its doors for the last time on 11th March 2019. After crunching the numbers, a thousand times over, the Hopkins family, who have run the independent music venue, for nearly 40 years, have sadly come to conclusion that they cannot continue.

“After months of negotiations, we would have loved to have been able to take the landlord’s final rent offer, but it came too late.

“What’s more, even with a vaguely do-able rent agreed, there were no guarantees on the time frame of the building work, which required access to the shop above and various structural considerations.”

The club was destined to close earlier this year after failing to meet fire safety regulations, but was rescued by a massive public fundraising appeal which saw more than 2,000 supporters pledging more than £92,000.

The money, raised in a crowdfunding initiative backed by members of Oxford bands Radiohead, Ride and Foals, was due to pay for a new fire exit and internal improvements.

The venue has faced an uphill struggle to survive in recent years. In August 2017 it was served notice to leave by its owners, who applied to Oxford City Council for permission to redevelop the basement venue into storage space for the shop above, previously occupied by cosmetics store Lush and now a souvenir shop.

The Oxford Times:

Tim Hopkins

More than 13,600 supporters, including musicians and politicians, backed a petition to save it. Then last year, the venue was ordered to cut the number of people it allowed in from 150 to just 60, after inspectors deemed its 70cm fire escape was 30cm too narrow. The restrictions made it unviable as a live music venue.

Fans of the venue pledged funds and bid for items donated by members of the local music scene, including a drum from Radiohead’s Philip Selway.

The work, which would have raised capacity to 270, was initially supposed to have been completed by next month but was delayed due to the negotiations.

Mr Hopkins’s statement continued: “Essentially, the whole process took far longer than we were expecting, and we simply could not keep operating under these conditions.

“We are grateful to the landlords for recognising the cultural importance of the venue, and we hope that we have saved this space from becoming a store room.

“Moreover, we hope that the space, in some shape or form, will continue as a live music venue.

“Over 2000 people donated to the Cellar Forever campaign, showing that the people of Oxford really care about what The Cellar stands for, and the values it embodies – independence, individuality and creativity. The amazing £92,000 that we raised will be returned to everyone’s bank accounts.”

He added: “This is a sad time for Oxford’s city centre, with so many vacant shops and bars all around us, and we hope that our closure will be noted as part of the situation that is eroding our cultural communities.

The Oxford Times:

Popular sound engineer and producer Jimmy Hetherington and venue manager Tim Hopkins

“We have tried hard to save our beloved venue, but hopefully its closure will fuel further discussion between landlords and the council to stem further destruction of our beloved city.

“If given the opportunity, our dream for the future would be to turn The Cellar into a Community Interest Company, a social enterprise whereby any profits would be ploughed back into the company.

“We’d like to thank all of our Cellar Forever supporters from the bottom of our hearts. You guys have kept us going through what has been a very tough two years. We’d also like to thank the brilliant people at Crowdfunder for being so supportive and understanding. Lastly, thank you to the Music Venues Trust who gave us so much valuable advice and guidance. Without them, we certainly wouldn’t have come this far.”

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A statement issues earlier this month by the landlords, Rupert Sheppard, Clerk to the Feoffees at St Michael’s and All Saints’ Charities, said: “At the forefront of the minds of the charity is the music scene of Oxford. We have made considerable changes to our plans for the building and that’s cost us a lot and led to a big sacrifice of income.”

  • The Cellar issued the following statement to supporters who had pledged money or bid for prizes as part of the crowdfunding initiative.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT WITH MY MONEY AND THE PRIZES I’VE BID FOR?

All money donated will be fully refunded to all of our amazing supporters within days of this announcement.

In terms of the T-shirts, posters, benefit gigs and names on the wall, sadly as the campaign to save the Cellar was ultimately unsuccessful these rewards will not be created

However, to leave this on a positive note, we feel that those of you who were excited to have won some of the individual rewards, should not have to miss out on them. We asked Music Venues Trust if they would be up for setting up a Crowdfunder page so that - with special thanks to Philip Selway – we can now proudly donate the Radiohead snare drum to Music Venues Trust to re-host that Crowdfunder raffle. This means that people who entered before (once they have received their refund from the Cellar) can instead re-enter this new raffle to still be in with a chance of winning this amazing reward. Any money generated from this will go to the support the Music Venues Trust with the incredible work they do in campaigning and helping other struggling music venues around the country.

In addition, the following gifts listed below, have been very kindly kept open by the reward providers listed below, for the registered winners to still claim them. Again, once the reward winners have been refunded from the Cellar campaign, all you have to do is donate the exact same figure to the Music Venues Trust Crowdfunder. Vez from The Cellar Forever Campaign will get in touch with you personally about this, and to arrange how you will receive your reward.

The Oxford Times:

  • Glass Animals Bumper Signed Bundle
  • Nightshift Cover Star
  • Safe House Studio Half Day Recording Session
  • Rough Trade Records Mystery Bundle
  • Ninja Tune Records Mystery Bundle
  • Domino Records Mystery Goodie Bundle
  • Pair of Tandem Festival Tickets
  • Special Truck Fest Tix Plus Backstage Bundle
  • Death of Hi-Fi to remix your track
  • Upcycled Sounds Half Day Studio Session

We’d like to thank all of the above organisations and people above, for these donations and keeping them open so that winners may be able to still receive their prizes, and the Cellar can thank the Music Venues Trust properly for all the free help they gave us and give others.

The Music Venues Trust crowdfunder can be found at crowdfunder.co.uk/music-venue-trust-grassroots-music-venues-sos