Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Underground and under threat - again

When the Cellar, one of my favourite Oxford gig venues, successfully fought off redevelopment plans last year, Nightshift editor Ronan sagely observed that a significant battle had been won but that the war would rage on. He was talking about venues generally, though, so it's concerning to learn that the Cellar itself is once again mired in deep trouble, this time under threat from health and safety regulations.

The problem is that its fire escape has been deemed too narrow for the current capacity of 150 - something that has only come to light following an assessment as part of the lease renegotiations. As a result, the capacity has been limited to just 50 people until the situation is resolved - in the words of the venue team, "to such an extent that it may severely affect our ability to survive as a live music and club venue". If they want to avoid a massive drop in takings, it's hard to see how they can respond to this restriction other than by pushing up ticket and bar prices.

While not wishing to dismiss the vital importance of fire safety regulations, especially in light of tragedies that have taken place in recent years, I - like others - am somewhat suspicious of the timing. Finding a solution is extremely difficult because of the age of the building. One of those under consideration is to expand into the vacant shop unit above, formerly occupied by Lush. That might save the venue, but it would surely transform it into a very different space - no longer the dark subterranean mecca beloved by music fans.

The venue team are putting on a brave face and crossing fingers that history can repeat itself: "Suffice to say, the incredible events of last year continue to feed our hopes to be able to stay open". Here's hoping they can - ideally without having to compromise what makes the Cellar so special.

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