Sheffield venue The Leadmill have responded after it emerged they were offering £40 to volunteers to attend a rally to save the venue.
Next week (September 18), a rally titled ‘Battle For The Soul Of Sheffield’ will take place in the city as the venue continues its battle to survive.
Last year, the venue’s future came under threat after the owners of the building issued them an eviction notice, sparking an outcry across the music industry and from gig-goers.
The premises is owned by Electric Group, who bought the site’s freehold in 2017 and previously told music fans that they had no intention of closing the venue when they end the current occupiers’ lease in 2023.
However, venue management then claimed they were being “exterminated by the landlord” before launching a fresh appeal to fans, asking for support after revealing that landlords were reportedly moving forward with eviction plans .
Ahead of the rally next week, it has been revealed by BBC News that the venue have been offering £40 to ‘volunteers’ in exchange for their support in opposing the venue’s closure and to post on social media.
When asked about the offer by BBC News, the venue said: “We are encouraging The Leadmill’s supporters to attend a rally outside on that morning.
“We don’t know how many people will turn up and as The Leadmill staff will likely be in the hearing itself, we have teamed up with Gosh to ensure the rally is professionally and safely managed by some of their team outside.
In response, Electric Group CEO Dominic Madden said: “[The] decision to resort to renting a crowd outside Sheffield Town Hall on the day of the licensing hearing is a clear indication that public interest in their campaign is waning.
“Paying people £40 to stand outside of the hall is a move that reeks of cynicism, as it attempts to manipulate the licensing process and unduly influence Sheffield Council.
“We’ve consistently maintained that we will invest in the Leadmill to ensure it remains an inclusive, vibrant music and arts venue, of which Sheffield can be rightly proud for years to come.”
Ahead of the rally, a spokesperson for The Leadmill said: “If we don’t stop this hostile takeover, the very soul and character of our great city is at risk.
“This landlord is exploiting a legal loophole to evict and destroy a highly regarded, independent, Sheffield success story, forcing us to cease trading, all for profit. But it’s even worse than that.
“It couldn’t be clearer. This is not just about The Leadmill. This is a fundamental Battle for the Soul of Sheffield. That’s why we’re asking you to help us win this battle. We need you to sign up and back our campaign.”
Responding to the latest campaign, Madden told NME: “In 2016, Electric Group acquired the Leadmill building from MCR properties with a genuine concern for its future and the possibility of redevelopment. As operators of multiple music venues across the UK, it seemed only natural that we would step in to protect this iconic space.
“It’s important to note that the current management’s lease expired this year. Contrary to claims of exploiting a legal loophole, the reality is that a commercial lease has come to its natural end.”
He continued: “Phil Mills, the current operator of the Leadmill, had several opportunities to purchase the Freehold of the building, including during a public auction in 2014. However, he chose not to pursue this course of action, and as a result, Electric Group acquired the Freehold in 2016. Our intention from the beginning has been to continue operating the venue as a music, arts, and comedy hub, preserving its legacy.
“Our vision for the Leadmill is all about continuity of programming. We cherish the venue’s history and the incredible talent it has nurtured over the years.”
Last year saw former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visit The Leadmill and encourage others to “get behind it“, echoing the views of Sheffield locals hailing it as “the heart of the city” and the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Jarvis Cocker and Bring Me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes among the Sheffield artists to have spoken out in support of the venue.