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Gigs chapel puts faith in music fans as it battles to survive

Iconic Upper Street venue has been transformed into coronavirus crisis centre

15 May, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

Union Chapel has become an award-winning music venue and community hub

UNION Chapel, the iconic music venue which has been turned into a corona­virus crisis centre, has warned it may have to close its doors for good after its revenue dried up completely during the lockdown.

The building in Upper Street, Highbury, which has gone from a threat of demolition to becoming an award-winning music venue and community hub in 25 years, closed on March 18 as the crisis hit.

Since then, its management team has spent £60,000 setting itself up as a Covid-19 community emergency response hub, serving as a donation drop-off and distribution point for food and essential goods, as well as continuing its Margins Project providing a night shelter and support to homeless people.

But now, it says it is facing a closure of at least six months, which could be “hugely damaging” to its future, as it relies mostly on revenue from its own building to survive.

Beck performs at Union Chapel. Photo: Aurelian Guichard

“We certainly hope we won’t close,” said Union Chapel’s Michal Chandler. “But the clear indication is that music venues will be among the last places to re-open. Under these circumstances we don’t know when that will be.”

Over the years, the venue has hosted scores of intimate gigs from up- and-­coming talent to world famous performers including Elton John, Ray Davies, Adele and the late Amy Winehouse.

Mr Chandler said £10,000 was raised in around an hour after the fundraising link was shared to its mailing list. But tens of thousands of pounds are still needed.

“It’s amazing really, and it’s a testament to how much people love the Union Chapel.

“If we reach £50,000 it will buy us some time. How much, we don’t know. It’s a bit more security, and it will support our current work in the community reacting to this crisis, as well as our ongoing work like the Margins Project which can’t stop.

“We hope that we can reopen in the autumn, but indications are that won’t be the case. But we’re still providing a service to the community.”

Mr Chandler added the Union Chapel would soon be launching a digital project-sharing footage of some of the memorable acts that have performed in the Chapel, along with online cookery lessons from its head chef and online art sessions for the vulnerable.

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