A grassroots campaign to save a pub hopes to turn it into a gig venue for the ages – and residents have the chance to co-own it.
Sister Midnight lost its original space in lockdown but has since re-established itself as a community benefit society to save Lewisham High Street’s Ravensbourne Arms by transforming it into a community pub.
Sister Midnight’s founders, Lenny Watson, Verity Hobbs, and Sophie Farrell, on Monday (September 20) launched a community share offer, giving people the chance to invest in Sister Midnight and help create Lewisham’s first community-owned live music pub.
Everyone who invests will become a part-owner of the Ravensbourne Arms, meaning they’ll have a say on how the business is run – they’ll also get the chance to win gig tickets, exclusive merch, vinyl, and food and drinks when the pub reopens.
Lenny said: “Sister Midnight has always been about providing a vital platform for musicians and creatives in the early stages of their careers, and it’s what we built a reputation for at our venue in Deptford.
“When the effects of the pandemic forced us to close down that site and look for a new venue, we set out to create a space for live music that would be sustainable long term.
“Music venues and pubs are important community assets, and we believe that they should be owned and controlled by the communities they exist in.
“We need to take the future of grassroots music venues out of the hands of landlords, who all too often only care about the rent they get paid, and make sure that venues are protected for generations to come.
“That’s why we became a community benefit society, and why we’re asking our community to invest in Sister Midnight and become a part owner of a local music venue. We want to save the Ravensbourne arms and make it a space where our community has a say in how things are done, and where we can carry on showcasing the best creative talent that Lewisham has to offer.”
The Ravensbourne Arms closed in 2016 after being sold to private property developers. Two floors of the building have since been converted into flats, but Lewisham council has refused to grant a change of use for the rest of the space, due to the community importance of the pub.
Sister Midnight’s Ravensbourne Arms will offer a cutting-edge live music programme, alongside pub classics: local ales and Sunday lunch. The pub will be owned and democratically controlled by the community it serves, with each member having a vote on all business-related decisions.
Lewisham’s MP Vicky Foxcroft said: “This is such an amazing opportunity to revive a currently unused venue in a way which puts the community it is based in at its heart, and provide exciting cultural opportunities which are accessible for local residents.
“I am also happy to see such a great project led by young women, who are too often not at the forefront of projects like these.”
The idea was partly inspired by the success of The Ivy House in nearby Nunhead – London’s first community-owned pub, which opened in 2013. The Ivy House hosted a fundraiser for Sister Midnight’s venture, featuring a headline performance by Goat Girl. Next weekend (October 2), another fundraiser is set to take place at Lewisham’s Fox and Firkin, with a line-up that includes Mercury Prize nominees Porridge Radio, Piglet, Leather.head, and more.
Amy Lamé, Night Czar, London said: “There has been a pub on the site of the Ravensbourne Arms on Lewisham High Street since the 1750s. But sadly this venue, which has enormous potential, is currently sat empty. Sister Midnight, a community benefit society, is working to save the Ravensbourne by bringing it into community ownership as an accessible, affordable and inclusive live music pub. From an early stage in the consultation process, Sister Midnight has received an overwhelmingly positive response from the local community, demonstrating a huge appetite for a community owned live music space in Lewisham.
Music, community, pub culture and inclusivity are at the heart of Sister Midnight’s vision. I look forward to working closely with them to bring this fantastic project to fruition.”
Cllr Mark Ingleby, chairman of Lewisham Creative Legacy Taskforce 2021 said: “Sister Midnight’s bid to revive both the pub and its live music at The Ravensbourne Arms is both timely and critical to maintaining the impetus of the upcoming 2022 London Borough of Culture year in the borough, and it is emblematic of the community-driven enterprise that is vital to growing and securing Lewisham’s unique cultural and creative industries opportunity.
“The Ravensbourne Arms project lies in a key location in both the vicinity and the networks of other Lewisham pubs and venues that have achieved national recognition in jazz and urban music, for the role they have played and will play in the growth of exceptional musical talent that is crucial to the legacy of the Borough of Culture Year.
“This is a very timely opportunity, not to be missed, to add to these special venues and what they can do for our borough.”
Goat Girl added in a statement- “We first got involved with the Ravensbourne Arms through being regulars at Sister Midnight’s venue in Deptford. That’s where we got introduced to Lenny and the music scene that thrived from the space. We were saying the other day that our social life has been at an all time low not having Sister Midnight round the corner anymore because it’s the place that you would find everyone at doing lots of different side projects, music, art and film, and cool stuff
“This idea that Lenny has is just like such a dream, it’s what the world needs, and we’re very excited for it. Without these spaces and enthusiastic people like Lenny, as musicians and bands who are now able to tour and play at festivals, we wouldn’t have any of that so it is really truly down to these people and these places that allow it to exist in the first place.
“Having community run venues is so important, especially now with all the venues that are closing basically because of gentrification. With the model that Sister Midnight are pushing for being community owned, it’s not in the hands of big landlords, and that’s really important as we need to have these spaces and everyone in the community having their say on what goes on because these spaces should be for all different types of people that live in that area.”
Dan Stubbs, former Deputy Editor, NME said: “The music scene is one of Britain’s last great industries, but a combo-kicking from Brexit and the pandemic has taken its toll on those who nurture it. Small venues are the soil from which world-beating artists grow. The talent pool in South East London is second to none, but – with no disrespect to the wonderful Fox & Firkin – the infrastructure in Lewisham is sorely lacking. This campaign to save the Ravensbourne Arms is not only welcomed, it’s essential. So as a local, as a music lover and as a music journalist, I am backing this amazing, altruistic enterprise all the way. The revolution starts here!”
Pictured: Sister Midnight founders Sophie Farrell, Lenny Watson, and Verity Hobbs