Campaign launched to save The Owl Sanctuary in Norwich from closure
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.
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