A CHARITY representing small music venues says a church organisation’s hunger for profit caused the closure of central Oxford’s last independent gig space.

The Cellar nightclub, in Frewin Court, off Cornmarket, closed last week after 40 years as a music venue, after failing to reach an agreement over a rent increase by its landlord St Michael’s and All Saints’ Charities.

St Michael’s Charities lists its aims as supporting the nearby Church of St Michael at the North Gate and awarding grants to other organisations.

But another charity, the Music Venue Trust, has accused it of killing off live music in its pursuit of “maximum profit”.

The Cellar had fought of previous efforts to close it down, including an attempt by the church charities in 2017 to redevelop the venue into storage for a shop.

More than 13,600 supporters, including musicians and politicians, backed a petition to save it. Then last year, the venue was ordered to cut the number of people it allowed in from 150 to just 60, after inspectors deemed its 70cm fire escape was 30cm too narrow. More than 2,000 supporters pledging more than £92,000 to pay for the changes and loss of earnings.

However, manager Tim Hopkins was forced to close after failed rent negotiations.

Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust said: "The final outcome of two years of campaigning by local people is that the existing venue, run by a much admired family, powered by a passion and commitment to the local scene, has been lost.

"The landlords state that they want to be champions of live music in the city, but they have lost a tenant who was keenly committed to that cause and are now seeking to replace them with another tenant to do the exact same thing.

Oxford Mail:

Very Nice Harry play Oxfam fundraiser Oxjam at The Cellar in 2011

"If the rent was not affordable by Tim and his family, who have given years of their lives and thousands of pounds of their own money to supporting Oxford's music scene, it is not going to be affordable to any other operator who is prepared to take the venue on.

"We wait to see if any operator can be found to deliver a venue that genuinely supports grassroots music and artists in this location, and, of course, we will support any one who is able to do that. But two years ago the landlord was happy to close this venue to try to maximise its profit, and now the venue is closed and the pursuit of maximum profit is still the intent of the landlord.

READ AGAIN: The Cellar fights for its life - months after being saved

READ MORE: More big names revealed for Truck Festival - including this iconic guitarist

"Until landlords such as this are made to appreciate that they are part of an entire community and that not every square inch of land can be maximised for profit without destroying the heart and soul of our cities, we are going to go on seeing venues across the land closed down.

"In this particular case, the landlord is a charity. If even charities are so driven by a profit motive that they are unable to appreciate their duties and obligations to local communities, then we are in a very sad and sorry place."

Oxford Mail:

Gaz Coombes backed the campaign to save The Cellar. Picture by Vez Hoper

A spokesman for St Michael’s and All Saints’ Charities said in a statement: “We are greatly saddened by The Cellar’s closure. At the forefront of the minds of the Charities is the music scene in Oxford. To this end we have made considerable changes to our plans for the building, at a cost to us and our beneficiaries, to enable the premises to continue to be used as a music venue.

A LEGENDARY VENUE - pictures of The Cellar over the years

"St Michael’s and All Saints’ Charities support many vital charities across the city and the wider county and inevitably we also have to consider the best interests of our beneficiaries. We could not in all conscience accept such a low rent.

"Now that The Cellar has made the decision to close its doors, we are looking to find an alternative and quality tenant to carry on the much loved music scene in Oxford. Keen interest has been expressed by other parties wishing to run a music venue and we hope that before long, music will once again return to the Cellar, in safety."

Tim Hopkins said: "We are really pleased that Oxford’s music scene is now at the forefront of the landlords’ minds. All that public support to get their initial planning application rejected was not in vain.

"We have succeeded in saving the venue from being turned into a store room, and the fact that they want it to remain a live music venue is music to our ears."

Oxford Mail:

Tim Hopkins in the now-closed venue