the craufurd arms in 2020

Posted: 15th December 2020

Besides being a great local music venue, The Craufurd Arms in Milton Keynes is also a hub for the local community. As a long established independent music venue right on the doorstep of Marshall HQ, we sat down with Max, one of the venue's owners, to talk about the impact 2020 has had on him and the venue.

When did the Craufurd Arms first open?

The Craufurd Arms first opened around 1896 and it started out as a rehab centre for soldiers who were coming back from war, they would come back and spend some time here to reintegrate into the community. It was turned into a music venue in the 1970’s and that’s how it’s been known since then really. Jason and I took over in May 2013 so its been like 7 and a half years now.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

My favourite part is just getting to work with such a diverse group of people, ranging from the people who work here, to audiences that come in and the talent that comes through here: artists, musicians, street vendors; just everyone and above really. I’ve met loads of great people.

Do you have a personal highlight from your job?

That’s a tough one, we do a lot. Personal highlight though is probably watching the new upcoming bands come in and play the venue. More often than not I won’t really know much about them but may have heard through the grapevine about them. Then they come and sell out then the next thing you know, they explode. We’ve had people like: Lizzo, Wolf Alice, Idles, Slaves and then they’ve gone on to win awards! We’ve been really lucky to have had some really great bands here, and loads of local bands too really, we get a great mix of artists in.

What is the worst part of your job?

At the moment, the worst part is the current pressures. It’s horrendous. Pressures from the brewery regarding the rent and just the uncertainty really of everything, whether we are actually going to be able to pay our bills or not. Which I imagine is a general feeling among businesses at the moment.

How important is Craufurd Arms to the local community and what does it offer?

Yeah, I think it’s very important. We offer a welcoming, safe space for the whole community. It’s a place for young artists to grow their talent by being able to support bigger acts, and for local vendors as well to showcase whatever they do, whether it be jewellery, food, etc. Obviously with its very early history as well being the rehab centre, I guess that’s sort of carried through.

Does the Craufurd Arms receive much support from individuals?

Huge support. We ran a crowd funder during the first lockdown and we managed to hit our target with that which was really incredible as without that support we would probably be in a very different situation. It certainly would have been a very uncertain future and we probably would’ve had to permanently shut. It’s been great to see what the community can do and not just the local community, we ended up getting nationwide support from the entire music community - from people who have travelled to come to the venue through to the bands that have played here.

What has been the biggest challenge of COVID?

The biggest challenge is probably the uncertainty of just everything. Whether we can pay our bills, keeping staff employed and just keep the place going really. Those have really been the things that we’ve found most difficult and where our biggest goals have been.

What changes have you had to make since reopening?

So many changes! More than we initially thought. The biggest being making the place COVID secure and a safe place for people to come to. Moving forward another one of the big changes has been having our capacity drop dramatically from 275 to 64 so running live events on a 64 cap has been a very big change and a lot of work for us really in terms of making things financially viable across the board.

How easy has it been in terms of reopening?

Honestly, its been hard. It’s been a real challenge for us all, making sure that we have the finances to open and remain open, making sure we can pay our staff and finding our break even points to make sure that we can actually go ahead with what we had planned.

Overall, the whole process of reopening has been very costly for us. Making this place COVID secure has cost us more than what we perhaps first thought and has been quite a big expense, we were trying to get all these bits we needed and it just seemed that prices of all this PPE was just going up.

Even after we were ready and then reopened, we were then hit with the 10pm curfew which made things more difficult for us! It doesn’t exactly make us feel certain about what’s going to be happening in the future, the constant changes and having to adapt to them at short notice is a worry for us but something that hopefully we will be able to do.

What was your reaction when you were told you had to close, the first time?

The original time we weren’t sure of the support that we’d have at the time of closure and that was quite hard, it did actually take quite a toll on mine and my business partners’ general wellbeing. We were worrying for the staff, worrying for the business and for the venue overall. It was a really tough time.

Now with the second lockdown, it hasn’t been as hard for us. The Government were a bit clearer on their plans and what help is available to us. Last time we didn’t get any of that, and that does take off some of the pressure for us.

What does the future look like for you and the venue?

The future looks unclear. We’ve had massive help from a number of communities and of course Music Venue Trust, who have helped all the music venues throughout the entirety of lockdown and through the reopening process also which has been almost about 8 months now. They’ve also helped with the Arts Council grants from the Government that have been given to venues. So with all this help that we have been fortunate enough to receive, despite having to shut again, the future looks a little brighter than it did before.