We’re about to go quiet for a little while…
It’s been a busy lockdown for many of us at The Met so far, but we’re about to enter a quiet period for a couple of weeks. It will be more difficult for customers and contacts to reach us by email, phone or social media until July. We thank you for your patience. Below is an attempt at rounding up what we’ve been up to, and what we’ve got to look forward to. (Tl;dr – We’ll get by with a little help from our friends)
The Met took the decision to close its doors to help keep its customers, staff and volunteers safe on 16 March 2020. It was a stressful and fast-moving situation for us as it was for so many businesses, but what felt like a difficult and potentially very damaging decision has proven to be just the start of our work during the pandemic.
Our first responsibility on closing was, we felt, to look after our network of people who rely on The Met in any number of small, significant ways. Our staff, of course, and the group of volunteers who help make events here such fun and who come to us for not just work experience but to enjoy great nights and socialise with the team.
But we know our work is impossible without our customers. The Met is seen in different ways by so many people; as a gig venue, a comedy venue, a place to bring the kids or a place to perform or enjoy amateur theatre. For many it’s a place to discover new acts or a place to travel to for brilliant nights with national and international artists from the worlds of folk, blues, americana or world music. For some it’s a place to regularly catch the best tribute acts in the country and have a fun night out.
Whatever people come to us for, we find our crowd friendly, loyal, knowledgeable, patient, good-humoured and passionate about what we do. Many of you come back time and again, and you tell us you do it because of the venue, the welcome, the programme and the experience that is delivered by everyone from the person on the ticket desk or the end of the phone, to the amazing sound and lighting from our hard-working tech team.
So our customers have come to expect good things from us, and we hope we haven’t let them down during this period. While scrambling to rearrange dozens of shows (including big sold out gigs) in the days and weeks following lockdown we’ve worked hard to contact customers with as much notice as possible and give them the option to get refunds, keep their tickets for rearranged dates, or to take the value of their tickets as credit for future performances.
A number of our customers appreciate the effect of the lockdown on our industry, and have generously decided to turn all or part of their ticket values into donations for The Met. Others have taken it a step further and decided now is the time to become members and make a small, regular donation.
This kind of support is vital if The Met is to continue to thrive in the way it was before lockdown began. Ticket sales account for around 60% of The Met’s annual income: almost overnight, that revenue all but dried up.
The Music Venues Trust has acted quickly to set up the #SaveOurVenues campaign; a crowdfunder which aims to support the network of grassroots live music venues which underpin the British music industry and provide vital support to the cultural and economic vibrancy of towns like Bury.
Participation in schemes like this, as well as the recent ‘Giving Tuesday’ campaign which saw almost £1000 raised by supporters for The Met in 24 hours, provide a lifeline for us to continue our work during the lockdown, and to provide a pathway for our community during recovery.
The Met has found a way to keep doing all the things it does during this lockdown, even with a skeleton staff and restricted access to its building (we’ve had to furlough many of the team, including all Events staff and members of marketing, tech and management to stay afloat without our regular cashflow from tickets).
We’ve been proud to be partners in United We Stream: a Greater Manchester-wide effort to bring music and entertainment to the people of Manchester, and to provide vital funding to businesses and individuals who operate in the city region’s world famous ‘night time economy’ of bars, restaurants, theatres and venues.
As the production hub and live venue for this ambitious collaboration, headed up by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and led by Sacha Lord and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, The Met has hosted DJs and live artists as well as production staff safely and innovatively in a way that would have been inconceivable just a few months ago.
Highlights of the United We Stream programme have included Hacienda raves, live cook-alongs, and a tribute event in memory of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis with contributions from Elbow and The Killers. The events have been streamed by millions, raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity, and have shown The Met in a whole new light to a huge audience. They’ve also pushed us as a venue to innovate, improve and collaborate in new ways. There are more brilliant events lined up, and having the chance to see the venue alive for a few hours at a time is a thrill, even if we have to watch online from home.
While taking the chance to work with new artists and reach new people, we’ve also done our best to stay in touch with our regulars. As an arts centre we’re home to many participatory groups who see The Met as a safe place to create, socialise and learn. Our ongoing challenge is to help take that familiar and supporting environment online for people whose need to create and share is undiminished by social distancing.
Our own Bury Youth Theatre have responded creatively; meeting online weekly and creating a ‘time capsule’ project of films to reflect their reality. For long-running disability theatre groups Met Express and Aiming High, which works with young people with special educational needs, group facilitators have made it a priority to keep engaging online with members who are used to experiencing the many social benefits of creative group work.
Of course the impact is also being felt keenly by musicians and those whose jobs depend on gigs and tours going ahead. We’ve been working to rearrange and reschedule dates for musicians and artists in the coming months, against an ever-shifting landscape of unpredictable restrictions on travel, crowds and how people will feel about coming back out to gigs in the future.
The Met is part of a network of small venues who help thousands of talented bands and artists start or sustain a career in music. For tours to work for these groups we need venues around the country to survive this period. With a seemingly infinite number of musicians online streaming spare-room shows, we know The Met still has a role to play as a reliable source of signposting and recommendations for music fans.
We’ve been creating playlists and asking for suggestions, and enthusiastically sharing streams from the bands we love who’ve played for us before, were due to play for us now, or will play for us here in Bury soon. No algorithm in the world works as well as a friend’s suggestion and the chance to discover your new favourite band live in a small room.
We’re like many other businesses, venues, or people. The situation is unpredictable, uncertain and challenging. The threat to our business and our industry is very real, even if the backing of partners like Bury Council, Arts Council England and Greater Manchester Combined Authority has given us some vital stability during lockdown so far.
In what was meant to be Bury’s year as Greater Manchester Town of Culture, with the Happy Festival as a centrepiece event, and plans to build up to the return of Head For The Hills, it would be easy to be frustrated with missed opportunities. But we’re seeing so much enthusiasm and openness to art, creativity and music from people online, and so much support from our customers and visitors, that we truly believe that, once it’s safe, we’ll be back shoulder to shoulder with more of you than ever.