Sister Midnight confirms agreement for use of Lewisham community-owned venue

‘We hope this demonstrates that co-operative models are a powerful tool that represent a viable future for cultural spaces’

Sister Midnight, the Lewisham arts co-op looking to create a community-owned music venue in Lewisham, has taken the project a step further, securing an in-principle meanwhile use (7yrs+) with Lewisham Council for the Brookdale Club.

A former working men’s club in Catford, the space will be turned into a 250-capacity live music venue supporting local grassroots musicians. 

In 2021 the group launched a community share offer to bring a Lewisham pub into community ownership. The campaign raised over £260,000 from 865 investors, but they were unable to agree an offer with the owner.

The new venue is owned by a subsidiary of the local council, and was suggested to the co-op by the regeneration team. “The council has been a huge support,” said Lenny Watson, co-founding director of Sister Midnight. “They’ve offered us a lease with a minimum term of seven years, and the entire lease is subject to a peppercorn rent – so effectively we won’t pay any rent for the whole time we’re there, which is amazing.” 

The organisation wants to be “a hub of creativity and community solidarity, where we champion the wealth of local talent that Lewisham is home to, whilst working to effect positive social change in our wider community by working in a number of ways to support wellbeing”. They also hope the venue “will set a precedent for community-led regeneration of local areas, and give everyone in our community a real voice in what we’re doing”.

Related: Sister Midnight looks to create a grassroots music venue

Watson added: “We hope that this demonstrates that co-operative models are a powerful tool that represent a viable future for cultural spaces, which have long been strangled by profit-driven models that don’t centre the people who make these spaces so special. We also hope that Sister Midnight, in being run by three women under 30, inspires other young people to get involved in co-operatives, especially women, non-binary, and other minoritised gender groups who are typically underrepresented in the co-operative movement.”

The co-op will be reopening its community share offer for a second round of investment to help raise the remaining funds needed to renovate the site. “There’s a lot of work to be done (including a new roof!), so we’re a way off opening yet,” said Watson, “but we are so excited to throw the doors open and celebrate with the amazing community that have worked alongside us to make this happen.”

The news of the new venue was shared at a community meeting on 25 January, following a meeting with Lewisham Mayor, Damien Egan to discuss the site. An impromptu vote agreed to name the venue Sister Midnight, “in acknowledgement of the name having become synonymous with local co-operation, community solidarity, and leading the way on a new model for supporting culture”.

Watson added: “We were absolutely overwhelmed by the turnout to our first meeting of 2023, it made us immensely proud to be part of the wonderful South London community. We’ve still got challenges ahead, but we feel more confident than ever that we can pull this off – it’s amazing what can be achieved by local people working together.”

Cllr James Walsh, Lewisham cabinet member for culture added: “I’m delighted that Lewisham Council continue to show commitment to enabling quality grassroots arts and culture as legacy to our year as London Borough of Culture.”