Campaign launched to save The Owl Sanctuary in Norwich from closure

The Owl Santuary pub and music venue is to close. Manager Dan Hawcroft. 

The Owl Santuary pub and music venue is to close. Manager Dan Hawcroft. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

A campaign has been launched to safeguard the future of a popular Norwich pub and music venue, which is due to close at the end of the month.

Overwhelmed by support

Owl Sanctuary manager Dan Hawcroft said he was overwhelmed by the support which had flooded in after he announced the upcoming closure of the venue.

A crowdfunder campaign set up to raise money to help him and the staff had seen more than £3,000 pledged last night, while a Facebook page of Give A Hoot: Save The Owl Sanctuary was created.

While Mr Hawcroft said he would donate the money to flood victims in the north of England, he urged people to visit the venue to show support before the closure.

Lucy Galvin, founder of Friends of Marlpit, the first pub listed as a community asset in Norwich, which was saved for the community said: “The Owl Sanctuary is a gem of a pub and the Marlpit campaign has proven that people power saves such pubs. We stand ready to help. The fight is only just beginning.”

Chloe Alexander, from the Union of UEA Students, which has offered support, said: “The contribution The Owl Sanctuary and other small venues in Norwich and across the country make to music cannot be quantified.

“Whether it’s the band that plays to 50 people night after night, bringing joy and inspiration to that handful of fans, or being the first to take the risk on a young group that the following year becomes a global sensation, small venues are the lifeblood of the music scene.”

The Owl Sanctuary will shut its doors on January 31 - to the disappointment of legions of music fans and its manager, who said the building he leases was sold without his knowledge.

The Cattle Market Street venue has been bought by Richard Pratt, who also owns the building occupied by Warings, the furniture shop and cafe next door.

Dan Hawcroft, who set up The Owl Sanctuary in 2014, said the venue would now be closing.

He said: “It’s been a nightmare. We only found out just before Christmas that it had been sold. The first thing I knew was when I got a call from Mr Pratt saying I would be paying him rent and it turned out that a deal had been done in August.”

Mr Hawcroft said he had had a verbal agreement with the previous landlord to extend the lease beyond March, when it is due to expire.

He said: “We created one of the most respected DIY venues in the country. We did the first ever sold out gig by Slaves, who have gone onto great things and we’ve had bands from all over the world, such as Japan and Brazil.

“They have come because they loved our ethos and what we are trying to do here. There’s some great bands coming up in Norwich and if they’re not nurtured at grass roots level, how are they ever going to break out?”

Mr Hawcroft added that the Norwich Soup Movement, which provides support for the homeless, also use a room at the venue, so they will need to find a new base.

Mr Pratt said he had been trying to buy the property from its previous owner - Roger Watkins - for three or fours years, as an “investment”.

He said: “I have no plans for the property at the moment, but it is common knowledge that I have planning permission for the building next door (Warings).”

He said Mr Hawcroft’s lease had always been due to expire in March. He said: “He has not been told to leave, it’s his decision to leave. His lease is until the end of March and there is no option in the contract to extend that. He knew that when he agreed the lease with Mr Watkins.

“At the end of the day, I don’t wish anybody any ill. We have all started in business somewhere and they could have had a little longer to stay there.”

Mr Hawcroft said if Mr Pratt could give a genuine promise that it would remain as a pub then he would be prepared to have a conversation with him.

The Norwich branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) is drawing up a submission to Norwich City Council to get the pub declared an asset of community value.

That affords a degree of protection to pubs and was instrumental in saving The Marlpit Pub. Neil Bowers, from Camra, said it would be a “crying shame” to lose the venue.

The Evening News, through its Love Your Local campaign, has been urging people to use their local pubs.

• What do you think? You can leave your comments below

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  • Actually Norwich City Council have been extremely supportive of pubs in general and music pubs in particular, at least in the recent past. Both the Blueberry and the Gatehouse are listed as ACVs (along with several other Norwich pubs) and I'm confident the Owl Sanctuary will be as well.

    Report this comment

    Ian S

    Saturday, January 9, 2016

  • This is a good thing. the owner never gave most bands a chance, he just ignored their messages. Unless he were mates with the bands themselves. Adding to that, the bad atmosphere if you didn't fit there criteria of what they deemed was 'cool' for their popularity club.

    Report this comment

    danny kray

    Saturday, January 9, 2016

  • Instead of donating the money up North, why not donate it to the Norwich Soup Movement, ???? As pointed out they now have to find somewhere else

    Report this comment


    Friday, January 8, 2016

  • Not going to happen. Norwich City Council want ever music venue in the co closed down, it is common knowledge. Whilst other cities do the best they can to keep music venues open Norwich have the most dreadful record of never supporting music venues. o many have gone over the years The Romany Pub being best of. Music seven nights a week and a host of talent spotlighted.

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    Friday, January 8, 2016

  • However, if they can keep it going, then all power to their elbows!

    Report this comment

    Resident Smith

    Friday, January 8, 2016

  • Probably would have gone out of business by the end of 2016 anyway. I've lived in the area 20 years and its been at least 7 different names, styles and owners in that time. It's always gone for too niche a customer group.

    Report this comment

    Resident Smith

    Friday, January 8, 2016

  • Times Up

    Friday, January 8, 2016

  • This shows how quickly your favourite or a popular pub can vanish quickly. Of course there is the use it or lose it view that largely seems to go ignored and there is also the local to Norwih nd Norfolk - Love your Local Campaign. One other thing that can be done quite simply is to get some protection for your local or favourite pub. By getting it listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) you can give your local some additional planning protection. It means that to change use from being a pub to anything else the owners need planning permission and also that if the pub is put up for sale then the person or body that nominated the pub will be told that the pub is indeed up for sale. That then gives the opportunity for the local community to buy the pub if they so desire and of course that planning permission protection is there as well. Contact your local CAMRA branch to get your local listed as an ACV.

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    Friday, January 8, 2016

  • The best result would be for Mr Pratt to extend the lease to Mr Hawcroft. The Asset of Community Value declaration will give some measure of protection to the pub but doesn't prevent it from being closed by an owner who doesn't want it open. It will be a great shame to lose this important, small, live music venue from Norwich's currently thriving live music scene.

    Report this comment

    Rich Hartt

    Friday, January 8, 2016

  • This is just a typical speculative development move. better this popular venue is kept as "an asset of community value" rather than "an asset of value to Mr Pratt alone". Happy to support Mr Hawcroft who strikes me as a genuine, community monded individual.

    Report this comment

    Stephen Strange

    Friday, January 8, 2016

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