Norwich music venue The Owl Sanctuary set to close
12:11 07 January 2016
A popular Norwich pub and music venue is set to close by the end of the month, after the building was sold.
The Owl Sanctuary will shut its doors on January 31 - to the disappointment of legions of music fans and its manager, who said the sale was done without his knowledge.
The venue, in Cattle Market Street, has been bought by Richard Pratt, who also owns the building occupied by Warings, the furniture shop and cafe next door.
And Dan Hawcroft, who used part of his student loan to set up The Owl Sanctuary in 2014, said that meant 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 are having to cancel lots of bands. Since I found this out I’ve been trying to get in touch with the owners of The Cricketers and King’s, as they are both pubs which are boarded up, but I’ve heard nothing back. “I really don’t know what we’re going to do. When we took it on, it was pretty much derelict and we got it all painted and refurbished by ourselves and we’re still the people who work behind the bar now.
“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). “As far as I am concerned, the building is structurally unsafe at the back and, whatever happens to that building, it needs money invested in it.”
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 Owl Sanctuary is set to shut on January 31 and Mr Hawcroft urged people to support the venue as much as possible until that date.
There was much anger on Twitter on Wednesday night directed against Warings, who people thought were behind The Owl Sanctuary closure.
The furniture store stressed on Facebook they were not responsible for the closure. They share the same landlord - Mr Pratt - as the Owl Sanctuary.
Warings wrote on Facebook today: “To all customers and followers, Please disregard various posts purporting that WARINGS have bought The Owl Sanctuary next door to our store - we are totally unrelated to this.
“We are desperately trying to balance all the misguided negativity left last night on our reviews.
“Unfortunately The Owl Sanctuary our neighbours are closing down. Some misunderstood their post to read that we had bought the building and forced the closure. Which we have not. We just share the same commercial landlord. We have deleted all the negative and nasty posts but are appealing for help to restore our online review status by getting as many positive reviews as possible.”