Anger, confusion and a row about authenticity as The Leadmill faces eviction
Plus, the rest of your weekly briefing
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
It feels like there’s only really one story in Sheffield at the moment: the future of The Leadmill. Since the news broke last Thursday that they may be forced to give up their lease next March, there has been a torrent of claim and counterclaim about what might happen to the iconic music venue. We take a look at what’s really happening.
We also have all our usual favourite reads and recommendations including some fascinating analysis comparing Sheffield to the Spanish city of Bilbao, and details of a talk at the central library which looks at the city centre from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century.
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Catch up and coming up
Thanks to everyone who read and shared our weekend piece about how the cost of living crisis is affecting some of the city’s poorest estates. You can still find that piece here.
Last week we sent out a celebration of The Tribune's first birthday which included a trip back to the Meersbrook community gardens where we did one of our first stories. And we also had a look back at Sheffield’s gruesome history of “gibbeting” or hanging in chains — one of the past’s most brutal punishments.
This week we’ll have two more including a report of a visit Dani made to a Sheffield auction house and another from me about a new book that looks at the role the gambling industry played in the death of a young Sheffield teacher. To get both of those and help secure our long-term financial future, please consider subscribing below. It costs just £1.34 a week if you pay for the year.
This week’s weather
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say this week will bring a typically fluctuating mix of spring weather including cloud, sun, showers and brisk winds.
Monday ☁ damp and milder with brisk westerlies and patchy rain affecting western hills. Cloudy elsewhere. Highs of 13°C.
Tuesday ☁ staying largely cloudy with weather fronts threatening further patchy rain, not amounting to much. Highs of 13°C.
Wednesday 🌦 a little cooler with fronts clearing to sunshine and blustery showers. Highs of 10°C.
Thursday 🌦 Fewer showers, but colder as we pull in polar air from the north again. Frosts possibly returning, highs of 8°C.
Friday 🌦similar with the odd shower and plenty of drier and brighter spells. Chilly NW breezes and highs of 8°C.
Outlook: staying changeable through next weekend with bright spells but also scattered showers. Colder air eventually mixing out with a slow recovery to the temperatures.
The big story: ‘This had better be an April fool’s joke’
Top line: The operators of the Leadmill shocked Sheffield and the music world last Thursday by revealing they were being evicted by their landlord. Since then the building’s owners have said they want it to remain as a music venue — but would the much-loved venue ever be the same?
Background: The row is essentially an argument between landlord and tenant. The Leadmill has a 20-year lease for the building but this runs out in March 2023. The freehold of the building (the ultimate owners) was bought by the London-based Electric Group in 2017. They already run several similar-sized music venues in Bristol and London.
Claim and counterclaim: Since the news broke, a war of words has developed between The Leadmill and Electric Group. A second statement from the venue accused its landlord of trying to “exterminate” the business in a “cheap, shabby, sly and underhand way”. They said:
Millions of pounds have been spent by The Leadmill (not the Landlord) on the fabric of what was once a derelict building. It is the hard-working, dedicated and local family of staff that have put 42 years worth of their blood, sweat and tears into making it the cultural asset it is today. Without The Leadmill, the building we currently occupy would be nothing more than a derelict old flour mill.
However, in an interview on Sky News, Electric Group CEO Dominic Madden said they were a music venue operator and that The Leadmill would be improved under their plans. He said:
I totally get that everybody is very upset and worried about the future of The Leadmill. But I would just like to say again, The Leadmill won't be closing. We're retaining it. We are a music venue operator. Venues need to organically change and also facilities in them need to change. Artists I've talked to talked about the fact that The Leadmill is an amazing space, but it needs improvement. And actually that's what we do.
Reaction: Over the past five days, the music world has rallied behind The Leadmill, with Sheffield artists including Arctic Monkeys and Self Esteem expressing their support for the venue and former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker saying: “It had better be an April fool’s joke.” Four petitions aimed at saving the venue have so far attracted more than 15,000 signatures.
History: The importance of The Leadmill to Sheffield’s musical heritage can’t be overstated. It was originally set up with financial backing from Sheffield City Council in 1980 as a community arts space and run as a cooperative hosting gigs, theatre and events.
However, over the years this cooperative ownership model has changed and The Leadmill is now owned by just one person: Phil Mills.
London-based music venue company Electric Group bought the freehold of the building in 2017. The current lease ends in March 2023.
Unanswered questions: The main puzzle seems to be why The Leadmill didn’t choose to buy the building outright five years ago. At that time Leadmill Holdings Limited had £1.8m of declared assets (either cash or other equity). The freehold sold for just £600,000 in 2017.
What happens next? When the lease runs out in March 2023, certain procedures have to be enacted to reclaim it for the freeholder. If and when this happens the Electric Group will take control of the building leaving only the name and some of the fixtures and fittings (including the sound system) in the hands of The Leadmill.
Sheffield Council said today that they “cannot directly intervene” in the legal process taking place between The Leadmill’s landlord and its tenant.
However, they added there was “nothing to stop” people or organisations from attempting to “formally protect the venue’s use going forward”.
Bottom line: Initial fears of the venue closing down have now morphed into questions of ownership and authenticity. Many worry that a takeover would mean The Leadmill would become identikit and soulless. As Sheffield music blogger Roger Quail told The Tribune:
“Nothing winds up Sheffield folk like the idea of Southerners coming in and taking over something which is hard-wired into the local consciousness. Imagine if Lea & Perrins announced they'd bought Henderson's Relish?”
Neither The Leadmill or Electric Group responded to The Tribune’s questions for this story.
Home of the week
This three-bedroomed, two-bathroom new build “sky house” in Fox Valley has a range of eco-features as well as a garden to the rear and on the roof. It is on the market for £265,537.
Lighting up the night
Hundreds of people came out onto the streets of Sharrow last night for the neighborhood’s annual lantern carnival. The parade started at Mount Pleasant park before making its way to the general cemetery where the crowds were entertained by live music and fire dancers.
Our favourite reads
A nice piece by David Kessen in The Star about his memories of going to The Leadmill over the years. He first went on a school trip in the 1980s to watch a play about sexism and gender politics — and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. Later, after watching the Stone Roses and Pulp at the iconic venue, he changed his tune.
A major piece of work by the Centre for Cities looks at how increasing housing density in Sheffield could make the city more productive. Comparing Sheffield with the Spanish Basque Country city of Bilbao, the study says that far fewer people here live within a 30-minute commute to the centre, reducing Sheffield’s “effective size”.
Worrying news on the BBC website that Peak District mountain hares may soon become extinct. There are currently thought to be only 3,500 of them in the National Park, equivalent to just 10 per square kilometre. The hares became extinct in England once before during the last Ice Age but were reintroduced by landowners in the 1870s.
The Showroom has a good review of the Sheffield tree protests documentary The Felling by former Sheffield Telegraph editor Ellen Beardmore — who was clearly as impressed with the film as I was. Screenings of the film continue at the Showroom until Thursday (a Q+A with Jacqui Bellamy and Eve Wood takes place on Tuesday).
Sheffield in bloom
Thanks to c.zack.h on Instagram for letting us use this great photo of a Sheffield tram peeking through the cherry blossom at the South Street Amphitheatre near the station.
Worth a look
Comedy: Journalist, author, and broadcaster Jon Ronson comes to Sheffield City Hall on Tuesday evening (April 5) with the live version of Things Fell Apart, a Radio 4 show and podcast that documented the history of the so-called “culture wars” which now dominate our politics. The excellent podcast of the same name is still available on the BBC Sounds app.
Art: Sheffield Museums have two interesting looking art exhibitions on at the moment. Not Without My Ghosts at the Millennium Gallery looks at the long history of spiritualism and art and includes work by romantic poet and visionary William Blake. And Framed in Friendship at the Graves Gallery looks at the impact relationships have had on the city’s art collection.
Talk: Local historian and author David Templeman will take the long view of Sheffield city centre in a fascinating-sounding talk at the central library on Wednesday (April 6). Central Sheffield Through the Ages will look at how a humble rural community became a town on the brink of becoming an industrial powerhouse from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century.
Music: Very much a personal choice but one of my favourite bands Teenage Fanclub will play The Leadmill on Friday night (April 8), 12 albums and 33 years after first forming in Bellshill, Scotland in 1989. Celebrity fans include Liam Gallagher and Badly Drawn Boy, and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain once called them the best band in the world — so I’m in good company.
‘Lambs at play’
Thanks to andyjonesfoto on Instagram for letting us use this lovely shot of two beautiful black and white lambs that he captured in the Mayfield Valley in Sheffield at the weekend.