Race to save Preston’s The Ferret after special status expires

£150,000 is needed to buy the building that is home to The Ferret

Susan Culshaw of The Ferret

Prestonians are being asked to dig deep to help keep the beat alive at iconic city music venue The Ferret.

The race is on to find the final £150,000 needed for a national music charity to buy the building in which Preston’s only certified grassroots gig spot is based.

As revealed back in May, Preston City Council granted The Ferret what is known as “asset of community value” status after the Fylde Road property was put on the market by its landlord. That gave the venue six months’ grace by putting a temporary block on the feared sale of a stage which played host to the likes of Ed Sheeran at the start of his career – and continues to be a breeding ground for the next generation of recording artists.

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The hope was that the moratorium would give the Music Venue Trust the opportunity to secure the funds needed to purchase the building as part of a project to protect nine similar venues nationwide. But that time is now up – and The Ferret, which opened in 2006, has set itself the target of raising the remaining cash needed to fulfil its dream in little more than three weeks.

The Music Venue Trust is seeking to save grassroots gig spaces by taking them out of the hands of private landlords. The organisation earlier this year launched a share scheme in which individuals could invest to help achieve that aim.

The Ferret in Preston

But as The Ferret is the only one of the nine on the trust’s list where the ‘for sale’ sign has already gone up, it is being prioritised in a final push to generate the necessary funds. That means that any locals donating to the latest effort can be certain that every penny will be ringfenced for The Ferret, rather than becoming part of the national share scheme – and the venue’s managing director, Sue Culshaw, hopes that that might make all the difference.

She warned: “We know the community in Preston all want to help, but some of them felt that they couldn’t afford the shares, as they were [a minimum] £200 investment. Some [people] also didn’t want to put money into a general pot, they wanted to feel like it had gone to The Ferret. With these donations, it will – you can put £5 in and it will go towards The Ferret specifically. Anybody can donate and it will give people a chance to show that they care about The Ferret. I think there had been a feeling around that we were home and dry, but although the Music Venue Trust has done a marvellous job, we’re not saved yet.

“[The building] is back on the open market and anybody can step in and buy it – and either turf us out or raise the rent through the roof, whatever they choose.”

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd said that donations to The Ferret’s fund were being sought both locally and nationally – and that, together, they could prove pivotal in guaranteeing a secure future for a spot that has earned a special place in Preston’s heart.

“We’re really confident that if we can get this £150,000 we can unlock capital that would mean we could definitely put in an offer – and then we can be the ones who buy The Ferret and save it. That money is really like a key that unlocks everything else. It feels really good so far – and I think with the local community and the broader national music community, we can get this over the line.

“What we need to be able to do is go to the landlord and say we want to put a bid in – and do that before they go back to market. Because what we’re also pretty confident about is that unless it’s sold to us, we don’t think it will be sold to be a music venue. That building has to be a music venue – it’s in the ideal place to be one. And it’s so important to Preston, we know that,” Mark added.

The part three and part four-storey property, which is not wholly occupied by The Ferret, went on the market with a price tag of £795,000 back in March. It was described in a listing with Morgan Martin commercial estate agents as a “superb investment/development opportunity” with the “potential for residential conversion, subject to the appropriate consent”.

However, Sue has a very different vision for the venue – one where The Ferrite sits at the heart of a wider arts and cultural hub in the city’s university quarter. To that end, The Ferret is in the process of converting from a private business to a community interest company.

“We would hope to find some partners and look at developing the whole building to offer a really good facility for Preston in terms of music, recording and theatre – a multi-purpose [venture] that would hopefully include an educational element as well. It’s important that The Ferret becomes an asset for community use.”

While the venue recently enjoyed a couple of sell-out gigs when tickets for two Badly Drawn Boy performances all shifted in the space of half an hour, Sue says that the cost of living crisis is currently making business even more difficult than it was in the post-lockdown reopening period last year. As such, she recognises that it is difficult to be asking people to donate to help save The Ferret at the moment – but she hopes that as many who can afford to make a contribution, do.

“It’s a very tough time on the back of everything else that has happened over the last few years – and it’s a big ask to try and get this money from our community in Preston. [But we hope] to raise the funds as quickly as possible – just in case there is another buyer waiting in the background.

A fundraising page set up late last week has so far seen almost £7,000 pledged. Anybody wishing to add to that tally can do so at crowdfunder.co.uk/p/savetheferret.

  • 05:25, 11 NOV 2022

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