by Chris Jarvis
Last night, I saw Capdown at The Owl Sanctuary for the second time in two years. Amidst the circle pits, the skanking, the stage dives, the crowdsurfing, the singalongs, introducing Capdown’s Strength in Numbers, gaffer of The Owl Sanctuary, Dan, announced that although its current Cattle Market Street venue will be closing its doors this Sunday, they have just landed a deal to re-open at a location elsewhere in the city.
The last month has been beleaguered for The Owl Sanctuary – with the announcement in January that they would no longer be in operation by the end of the month. All of this was down to the actions of their Landlord and their neighbours: the latter bought the property from above, without any consultation with the current tenants. Music fans across Norwich, and The Owl Sanctuary’s committed and dedicated community of clientèle, fell sullen, for a moment. Then they sprang into action.
Ultimately though, it was unsurprising. Few venues inspire as much awe, love and respect as The Owl Sanctuary.
Immediately following the news, a solidarity Facebook page – Give A Hoot – was launched, attracting over six and a half thousand people to follow it. More than £5,000 was raised via a crowdfunder, which eventually was donated to aid flood victims in the North of England. Over two thousand people lobbied the City Council to have the space listed as an Asset of Community Value in attempt to prevent its demolition. 8,713 people signed a petition to save the venue. Everyone from Norwich South MP Clive Lewis, to the Norwich Green Party, to musicians across the country including Frank Turner, Faintest Idea. and Crass vocalist Steve Ignorant threw their weight behind the cause. The extent of the solidarity, and the depth of feeling from those involved, was overwhelming and palpable.
Ultimately though, it was unsurprising. Few venues inspire as much awe, love and respect as The Owl Sanctuary. Partially down to its ethos, partially down to the fact that the people who run it know the scene as well as anyone, because they live and they breathe it, The Owl Sanctuary has built a community in Norwich that is beyond any real comparison. A venue that has music running throughout its bricks and mortar, is more than its stage and its PA, but consists also of the people that parade through it, finding a space to dance, to sing, to connect to other people, to escape from some of the mundanities of life, to feel at home.
When Dan proclaimed that The Owl Sanctuary would live again, the atmosphere was electric. The cheers from the crowd, the glee on people’s faces; it was the catharsis of a month’s worth of frustration, of tension and the unknown. The place so many had begun to call home is to be reborn, and the heart of a community will be remoulded.
The place so many had begun to call home is to be reborn, and the heart of a community will be remoulded.
This is in part down to the sheer hard work of the organisers and the staff who work tirelessly to run the venue night after night, and the thick skin that they have developed. After being told they would be evicted, a lengthy, ongoing battle with ‘fox hunting, islamaphobic cunts’ as Dan rather pithily phrased it, and continuous and unrelenting frustration at the process and nature of the eviction, most people would probably have decided to pack it in and call it a day. It was nice while it lasted, but there’s little that can be done to resist the encroaching gentrification of our cities, the long list of music venues that have been forced to close down, and the social cleansing of working class spaces from the centre of urban areas.
But there is also a part of this that is down to the immense solidarity that has been shown by The Owl Sanctuary’s patrons, its extended family of bands that have played there, and bands that never got chance, but heard about it from within the scene. The power of community and the support the venue garnered has in some senses been a success. With thousands of friends and supporters behind the project, it would have been far easier to keep spirits high, to work out a new venue for the future and remember the reason you’re doing it.
Thankfully Dan and co. were made of sterner stuff, and buoyant off the back of the solidarity campaign we now know that in the near future, a revamped, revived and even more brash and brazen Owl Sanctuary will come into being. And the culture and people of Norwich will be all the better for it. The scene will live on, and there will continue to be a space where culture and politics can collide and blend beautifully. When the new Owl Sanctuary opens, it will stand as a middle finger aloft to the property developers and venture capitalists whose bottom line is profit at any cost, and who would seek to price it and its peers out of existence. Fucking excellent.