A new nationwide initiative is opening up grassroots music venues during the day for education and community programmes.

Small independent venues have long been an indispensable part of the UK music scene. Bush Hall – a Second World War soup kitchen – was once a rehearsal space for The Who and in recent years has staged early breakthrough performances from the likes of Adele, Ed Sheeran, Lily Allen and Florence And The Machine. It’s where the late Amy Winehouse sold out her first ever headline show. Beatles superfans and historians know full well the importance that the Cavern Club had in their development. Some of these spaces – which deserve our recognition – have been so crucial in breaking acts over the years, and are now extending their generosity and care in a new nationwide initiative that will work closely with various disenfranchised and marginalised groups to provide the boost they need. 

CAN YOU CIC IT?, the Community Interest Company that runs Independent Venue Week in the UK, has announced the launch of Yes We Can – a new development, education, and community platform that highlights, promotes, and delivers a diverse range of activities taking place during the day across grassroots venues around the country. 

Yes We Can, which is backed by Arts Council England, is a combination of original initiatives such as the Yes We Can Be education program and Soundcheck Sessions as well as working with a range of specialist partners who are leaders in their field. Many of these partners are already providing community-based activities in fields encompassing the Early Years, Young People, as well as LGBTQ+ and Deaf, Disabled & Neurodiverse People initiatives supporting Mental Health and Well Being and the Older Generation. 

These launch partners are: Dr Jen Wills Lamacq, Attitude is Everything, Drake Music, Stay Up Late, Help Musicians UK and Come Play With Me. Alongside these partners are music industry trade bodies who will be delivering sector expertise for the Yes We Can Be education program including, Featured Artists Coalition, Ivors Academy, Musicians Union, Music Managers Forum, Association of Independent Promoters, Music Publishers Association, Music Producers Guild and the Association of Independent Music.

Despite already having a widespread positive reputation for the good work that they do, Yes We Can is encouraging independent venues to diversify the work that they do, by forming community-based partnerships and solidifying their status as cultural hubs for learning and creativity. 

“Through initiatives like Independent Venue Week, the importance of small independent venues to the UK’s music scene has become widely recognised. However, we’ve always believed that these spaces play an even more significant role in the social fabric of the UK. They’re not only a focal point for music and the arts, they’re outlets for entire communities up and down the country. Yes We Can provides a spotlight and program for this hugely important but less-celebrated work to encourage more of it to go on in small music venues up and down the country – whether that’s for parent and toddler groups, for the elderly, for young people or in support of LGBTQ+ or disabled people. Our goal is to encourage even more venues to open their doors and embrace a range of inclusive, community-based activities, giving people the chance to come together, in person, and develop relationships and skills to enrich their lives, all with music at its heart.” 

Sybil Bell, Founder Independent Venue Week & Yes We Can

Particularly impressive is the wide range of causes that will be supported by this initiative. Many initiatives unfortunately often don’t have the resources available to incorporate so many different groups, but with such diverse support available, we can expect profound change to be made. 

Come Play With Me, which consists of two live performances, one as part of a Women and People of Marginalised Genders In Music Conference, will be available with and for the LGBTQ+ community. Young People will be able to watch a soundcheck take place in a music venue before a live show during Soundcheck Sessions and will have the opportunity to take part in a Q&A with the artist and crew. Through Yes We Can Be, they will also be offered a 14 week education course starting during Independent Venue Week at The Smokehouse that will provide a broad introduction to the music industry delivered by relevant trade bodies and experts. For the Deaf, Disabled and Neurodivergent, Attitude is Everything and Drake Music will be available. Attitude is Everything, which is lead by #JustAsk, is a campaign with 4 online sessions ensuring promoters take into consideration artists disabilities and access needs. Drake Music supports artists with disabilities by using technology to create and perform new music and will be announcing plans for the Yes We Can partnership in the New Year. 

Yes We Can officially launched on the 2 December 2021, via a special event at The Smokehouse venue in Ipswich. 

“As we move beyond lockdown and into a recovery phase, the importance of independent, grassroots music venues to the local and artistic communities they serve is greater than ever. Independent Venue Week has been a vital ingredient in the success of our grassroots live music sector, showcasing our brilliant independent venues and artists across the country each year; but now their work will become even more important as they move to deliver year-round development, education and community programmes on a national basis through the Yes We Can initiative,” Claire Mera-Nelson, Director, Music, Arts Council England, said.

“Thanks to the National Lottery we’re pleased to be able to support Yes We Can and the grassroots venues it benefits across the country. We’re excited by the opportunities this work will open up to venues, artists and communities alike – helping to explore new ways to re-energise spaces, attract new audiences, provide innovative platforms for a new generation of artists and support venues to become even more inclusive and further cement themselves within the cultural and social fabric of the places in which they are based.”

Running both digitally and directly in venues in person, Yes We Can will drive more of this additional activity into venues, highlighting why they are cultural hubs for learning, creativity, arts and culture more widely, connecting like-minded people in their local community, all on a national scale.

The initial program of activity will be running through the UK up to the end of May 2022 and details can be found on the CAN YOU CIC IT website.

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