Independent Venue Week founder Sybil Bell reflects on the first 10 years of the grassroots venue initiative and why it is important the entire live music sector gets involved.

Last month we were thrilled to announce that Independent Venue Week will return for its tenth consecutive UK edition, running from 30 January to 5 February.

From a personal perspective, 10 years has felt more like five minutes. Back in 2014, when it was just me, I road tested the concept of a spotlight week to celebrate authentic independent venues.

Starting with just 17 venues, it felt like a huge amount of work at the time. Very kindly, Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood came on board as our inaugural ambassador, and we helped promote some once-in-a-lifetime gigs. We’ve never looked back and the IVW concept has firmly taken root.

Backed by long-running partnerships with BBC Radio 6 Music and Arts Council England as well as See Tickets, Creative Scotland, Welsh Government, PPL and Mercury Prize, we now work with hundreds of venues across the length and breadth of the UK, enabling them to come together across a single platform to highlight and celebrate the vital role they play week in, week out.

These spaces provide the music industry’s R&D, and they also build the music communities of tomorrow. Without this foundation, our entire sector would crumble.

For all these reasons, we’ve enjoyed particularly strong support from the artist community and, after Colin’s stint at the wheel, subsequent IVW Ambassadors have included Wet Leg, Arlo Parks, Tim Burgess, Amy Macdonald, Adrian Utley (Portishead) and Anna Calvi – with live shows from many of them during the week.

That support has helped us sell more than 1m tickets at IVW-branded events, bringing in a vital flow of cash into our sector.

It’s no secret that recent years have been unbelievably tough for everybody involved in live music. After Brexit and a pandemic, we now face a catastrophic cost-of-living crisis. All have exacerbated the multiple long-term pressures facing music’s grassroots – as highlighted by the situations currently facing Sheffield’s Leadmill and Manchester’s Night & Day, both hugely established venues that provide a cultural heartbeat for two of our most musically important cities.

For all these reasons, I believe Independent Venue Week 2023 is more critical than ever.  Alongside some urgent political actions and protections, it’s absolutely vital that we encourage audiences into their local venues, that they buy some tickets (and hopefully some merchandise) and rekindle their love of live music.

This is where IVW steps in. Taking things full circle, I’m delighted we have another member of Radiohead – the wonderful Philip Selway – signed up as our first 10th Anniversary ambassador. Philip will perform five shows across the week, and we’ll be revealing more ambassadors and special events soon.

Despite the unending economic pressures, I’ve been truly heartened that 232 venues have already agreed to take part – including 27 who will participate for the first time.

Any venue owners or operators among AAA readers yet to sign on the dotted line, or for any artists, managers, promoters or agents who want to get involved, I urge you to please get in touch asap. Artists don’t need to be in cycle – this is the sweet spot in the grassroots venue live music calendar. I spend every day talking to independent venues and, from personal experience, I know how challenging it is, but if there’s anything we can do to support and amplify what you do, then we always will.