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Saving the Leadmill will take all of us

If we want to save the Leadmill, the community must organise together to make Sheffield such a toxic environment for Electric Group that they never dare to touch the city again, says Zac Larkham.

Leadmill outside

The first time I came to Sheffield it was for an open day at Sheffield Hallam University. I came up a day early and decided to go to a gig at the Leadmill. Despite being on my own, I loved every minute of it. I remember walking in and looking in awe at the walls adorned with the names of bands that have played the celebrated venue, many of whom got their start there. Ask anyone in Sheffield about the Leadmill and they will give you a story about a venue that is close to the hearts of so many locals.

The future of the Leadmill is under threat after a shock announcement that they are being evicted by the Electric Group, the company who own the freehold for the site. Electric Group have a portfolio of music venues across the country. They have stated the Leadmill won’t be redeveloped as some feared, but instead they will take direct control of it. The iconic brand, along with everything about the venue that has been worked on for 40 years to create such a unique space, will go.

Electric Group are not ‘music people’ as CEO Dominic Madden has suggested – they are money people and we all know it. Kicking the Leadmill out of the space means selling the venue’s soul and allowing a billionaire-financed business to profit from our cultural spaces.

The announcement immediately drew criticism from scores of big names in music and comedy, such as Nish Kumar, Joe Lycett and Billy Bragg, as well as many individual Sheffielders, each with their own story about why the Leadmill is so special.

Minesh Parekh has written about one possible solution to this cultural vandalism – bringing the land the Leadmill sits on under public ownership through a compulsory purchase order – but the Council say they aren’t currently looking to purchase the land. They won’t do it unless we demand it from them.

Of course, our city has a long history of resistance. It’s been a site of many famous struggles, from parts of the 1984 miners’ strike to the Chartists attempting an armed uprising and the now infamous tree felling protests, where locals took drastic action to protect trees set to be chopped down by Amey on behalf of the Council.

Last year students in Sheffield told landlords exactly what we thought of them when nearly 1,000 of us went on rent strike at both universities, winning back millions of pounds for students in halls. At the start of April, Sheffield couriers working for a partner company of JustEat manning the UK’s longest ever gig economy strike reached 100 days of action, smashing the previous record of two weeks, and they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down their fight against one of the giants of the gig economy.

In London there have been several recent anti-gentrification actions, like the campaign to save Brick Lane from a massive redevelopment and the Save Latin Village campaign, a 15-year battle where a coalition of hundreds of traders, local residents and allies resisted the planned demolition of the Seven Sisters’ market by property developer Grainger PLC, one of the UK’s biggest private landlords.

What has been central to all of these struggles, both recent and historic, is the community coming together to resist takeovers of the places they treasure. It wasn’t individuals signing petitions or sharing an infographic on Instagram that did it – it was the people collectively taking part in protest, direct action and community organising that made these campaigns so effective.

After The S*n newspaper slandered Liverpool fans by blaming them for the 97 deaths in the Hillsborough disaster, Liverpudlians organised a boycott of the paper. To this day it isn’t seen in Liverpool, the mantra of ‘Don’t Buy The Scum’ is told to kids from an early age, and politicians and sports teams don’t engage with the paper at all.

If we want to save the Leadmill, Sheffield must become such a toxic environment for Electric Group, and all profit-driven developers, that they never dare to touch the city again. That begins with everyone pitching in to help with any campaign that is launched to protect our cultural institutions from vandalism by unaccountable companies who don’t have the interests of Sheffielders at heart.

And if Madden wins? Then artists, performers and Sheffielders should boycott whatever pale imitation takes the Leadmill’s place, sending a clear message there are many more of us than them and that we will not let our cultural assets be turned into money-making machines.

Please don’t leave me resigned to spending my weekends at Code or pretending to laugh at my boss's jokes because the Leadmill’s comedy nights have stopped. Please don’t let one of Sheffield’s most beloved spaces fall into the hands of billionaires and set a precedent for companies riding roughshod over the wishes of locals. The Leadmill means too much to too many people.

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