Much More Than A Music Venue: Here’s Why We Must Save Tooting’s Sound Lounge

It was just this January when the Sound Lounge in Tooting opened its doors for the first time, breathing life into the city’s dying independent music scene. With London...

It was just this January when the Sound Lounge in Tooting opened its doors for the first time, breathing life into the city’s dying independent music scene. With London having lost 35% of its grassroots venues in the last 10 years, this was exactly the kind of project our city needed. No surprises, then, when it captured the imagination of press and politicians alike.

But what made the Sound Lounge truly exciting was the social mission behind it, and the story of love and local activism that made it all possible. The campaign was sparked by Hannah White and Keiron Marshall – a husband and wife team, passionate about music and inspired to create a space for the whole community, not just those who could afford it.

After being rejected by every grant-making body going, they turned to crowfunding, raising over £12,000 in just 42 days. Drawing on the skills and goodwill of music-lovers across the city, they then transformed the derelict building into a space good enough to put many commercially-backed arts venues in the shade.

The Sound Lounge was created as a not-for-profit social enterprise and, in just 7 months, the venue has already done so much for SW17, London and the planet. For example, there’s the wonderful Friendship Coffee initiative, providing much-needed emotional support to isolated local residents over free hot drinks.

For vulnerable adults and young people, they offer a free AQA-accredited training programme in sound engineering, barista, and community event management, helping them get their lives back on track. Then there’s the vegan cafe and meetups, the free family workshops, the drop-in sessions with community police and the countless emerging artists supported during 99 live gigs to-date.

But last week, in an all too familiar story, the Sound Lounge informed its fans that the venue’s existence was under serious threat. Developers had applied to Wandsworth Council to convert the block into retail, a hotel and yes, you guessed it, flats. Terrible news not just for London’s ailing independent music scene, but for the whole SW17 community. And to add insult to injury, if the developers get their way only 35% of flats will be “affordable” – in a borough where housing costs are already so high the coucil has been trying to expel its homeless population to Birmingham.

The real tragedy of this situation is that it has rapidly become the norm rather than the exception. You might recall our previous pieces about how developers are trying to uproot the remarkable Seven Sisters Latin village – and how Nunhead’s historic Ivy House pub and music venue just about managed to survive such an attempt. Only a couple of months ago, a personal favourite venue of mine in Camden – The Forge (also a social enterprise) – was shut for good. Frankly, it makes the Mayor’s so-called music venue “Rescue Plan” look like a bad joke.

All of this comes at a time when Tooting is being lauded as a vibrant cultural hotspot and by Lonely Planet as one of the world’s 10 coolest neighbourhoods. Sadly, it’s this kind of deserved recognition for organisations like The Sound Lounge that gets developers licking their lips at the potential profits, ready to swoop in and reap the rewards of others’ hard work. Yet it is precisely during these times of rapid gentrification that we need social enterprises more than ever – to make sure the influx of investment benefits the whole community. The work of the Dalston’s Bootstrap Company provides the perfect example to follow.

So what can we do to save The Sound Lounge? Here are five ways to support the cause:

  1. Sign the petition
  2. Comment on the planning case file to express your objection
  3. Volunteer your skills to the campaign (see the FB post below)
  4. Join the vigil this Saturday (9th September) taking place inside and outside the Sound Lounge
  5. Share this post and raise awareness using #SaveTheSoundLounge

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