Seven months of silence and a loss to charity: Why well known Doncaster music venue could close

Chris Jones looks in his diary.

Thursday, 12th November 2020, 12:30 pm

It’s pretty empty at the moment, as the music venue he runs in Doncaster town centre, Woolpack Live, has been closed by lockdown.

The last band to perform on its stage, a well-established staple for many groups locally, was on there on March 23.

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The Woodpack in better times

Rose of Sharyn, a tribute act performing songs by the American metal core band Killswitch Engage played a bustling venue back in the spring. No one that night realised they would not be back for more than six months.

Gigs have been pulled until April 2021. Then, marked in for April 3, is State of Mind, an annual charity fundraiser gig for the mental health charity, Mind.

At a time when concern over the effect lockdown is having on the nation’s mental health, that is looking like it may not happen, after the venue was rated as being at imminent danger of permanent closure by the Music Venue Trust, a charity which campaigns to support venues.

it would be the second Mind fundraiser to be lost. The Woolpack stages them every Easter, and that planned for Easter 2020 has already gone down the pan.

Woolpack Live, Market Place, Doncaster

He remembers the last show.

"It was a busy night,” said Chris.

"We’ve still not been able to re-open since then.

"The Government grants have come and gone and we missed out on the Cultural Recovery Fund money, for whatever reason. We don’t know why. We applied, but we didn’t get anything, so we’re out of options, unless there are any discretionary grants available.

The Woolpack in better times

"We want the Government to know that people still need support.

“The Cultural Recovery Fund was our big hope, and we’re quite disappointed that we did not get an award from that. It couldn’t include everyone, and it is what it is.

"We’ve not been able to open since that show in March. It’s not feasible for us. We were already tightly run. But we would have to have less people in, and would have to employ more people. It wouldn’t work.

"Traditionally, we’ve had an open mic night every Tuesday, and bands on Fridays and Saturdays, and sometimes midweek. We have a year’s worth of gigs cancelled at present, either because we or the bands don’t think it will happen.”

Some Doncaster venues were given grants by the recovery fund. Both Cast, the main town centre theatre, and Higher Rhythm, a not for profit recording studio on Nether Hall Road, received money.

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Chris Jones, who runs the Woolpack Live with business partner Stewart Cantwell, does not feel able to re-open as a bar only. Live music is their niche market. Most of the bands that perform at the venue are free admission, with the bands paid for out of the bar takings.

The 35-year-old from Armthorpe has been involved in Doncaster’s music scene for many years, running the Woolpack for several of those.

They may not host household names, but they provide a venue for many Doncaster bands to ply their trade, and have seen international performers on their stage including Hed (PE) and Crazy Town.

A new crowdfunding initiative powered by Crowdfunder has been launched to try to secure the venue’s future.

Click here to donate to the appeal.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.