Venue Spotlight: Exchange - Bristol's first Community Benefit Society music venue

Last year, we surged into the depths of what makes Exchange one of the hubs of Bristol's live music scene (you can read about it here >>). This time around, we're checking in on some pretty impressive news that is currently hot on the lips of music fans and venues across the UK.

We spoke to Matthew Otridge, who has been working at venues and putting on events since he was 18 years old. In 2007, he was part of a three man team who took over legendary Bristol venue The Croft, and then in 2012 opened Exchange. On the side, he still promotes as half of Deadpunk Promotions as well as taking on a role at The Fleece. Exchange has recently launched a #SaveExchange campaign with the aim of becoming Bristol's first community owned Grassroots Music Venue.

Vital stats

  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market, Bristol, BS2 0EJ
  • Established: 2012
  • Capacity: 250

See full listings for Bristol's Exchange here >>

So, what's the big news?

Exchange is undertaking a community share issue to secure its future as a grassroots venue at the heart of Bristol's live music scene. If successful, this share issue will put us on a firmer footing by giving the venue a solid bedrock of community ownership.

What led to the decision to become a community owned venue?

We have been running small Grassroots Music Venues (GMV) now for almost 12 years and during that time we have put on some amazing bands, made some great memories, and forged lifelong friendships.

However, like a lot of small to medium sized independent GMVs, it has often proven to be a struggle to keep our heads above water. Although things have started to change for the better in recent years since the Music Venues Trust started lobbying on behalf of venues like ours, we looked into the future and realised that what we are doing is unsustainable in the medium to long term, as all three of us get older. We can't rely on people coming into replace us as directors, who would have both the skills and the time to give up for free, in order to allow the venue to keep on existing as is. So at the start of the year, we decided we needed to come up with some long term strategy to ensure the venue's survival. It was at this point that I was invited onto a BBC Introducing round table ahead of Independent Venue Week, and I met the guys from Komedia who had recently become a Community Benefit Society. They were so enthusiastic about it all, and the model just made sense to me - particularly for a creative forward-thinking city like Bristol. The investment from the Community Share Offer would allow us to address the significant changes required to make it more profitable. But, what excites us just as much is the community engagement, is being able to bring ideas to the table from our new co-owners and the wider community, which will allow us all to manage the longer term succession of the venue.

I truly believe that live music venues are cultural assets, and they shouldn't face the threat of closure just because a director chooses to move on - that wouldn't happen at an opera house or a theatre.

Exchange main room.

What can individuals who invest expect?

Alongside some tailored perks, which will be listed in our Share Offer Documents, investors will receive 3% interest on their investment from year 2 (6% if they elect to take it as vouchers to spend at Exchange) alongside 30% tax relief. Regardless of how much you invest you will also receive one vote for AGMs. All members have the opportunity to be a part of our members' forum (that will help advise the board on behalf of the members), and all members have the opportunity to stand as a Director from 2020. We fully intend to regularly engage with our investors and are really excited to hear their ideas - although our 12 years of work has given us valuable experience that we will continue to use to shape the future of Exchange, sometimes a set of fresh eyes is just as valuable.

As part of your share issue, you are seeking to raise £250,000 - can you tell us how this money will be spent?

The majority of the money has been allocated towards making improvements to the venue. We want to really improve the outside area and to also reorganise the venue to put the box office inside the venue to allow community access to the bar every night. We will be investing into improving our infrastructure, rebuilding our stage, PA and lighting improvements, as well as green energy ideas that will allow us to reduce our utility bills.

There are a few boring things, like soundproofing and general health and safety improvements, that will help safeguard the future of the venue. Finally, a chunk will be used to purchase some of the assets and pay back recent loans, the majority of which were used in recent years to make significant improvements to the venue including the Coffee Shop & Kitchen. If we hit our target then we have a stretch target of £300,000 and we would seek to use the other £50,000 to try and establish a new DIY space for promoters and bands, hopefully within the venue, but if not elsewhere. This would help develop ties with bands and promoters some of which would eventually move into our bigger room.

You can invest in Exchange now - find out more here >>

Front bar at Exchange.

Will community ownership change the general ethos and or booking policy of Exchange?

First of all, there are certain safeguards within the share offer and rules of the Society that would prevent any underhand tactics to drastically change the venue, so people need not worry about that. I think that ultimately the vast majority of people who will invest will be people who know what the venue is about - a forward thinking venue with a varied musical policy.

We actively embrace the weird and wonderful, alongside more conventional styles of music - anything can happen here. My hope is that through community ownership, we can expand on our work in promoting the venue as a safe space that embraces diversity (we plan to appoint an advisory group to help us achieve this).

I would also like to put more pressure on national live music promoters to incorporate local bands onto their bills. In recent years, we haven't done as much as we could have to support local bands, and this is something I hope we can change moving forward.

Exchange cafe.

Track the Exchange here to keep up to date with all forthcoming events. You can also catch them on their recently relaunched official website, Facebook page, and Twitter accounts.