Petition to save Brixton Academy grows as do fears for its future

Despite an online petition receiving over one hundred thousand signatures asking Lambeth Council to reopen Brixton Academy, fears are growing that the closure may be permanent.

The venue was originally closed to allow a review of the deadly incident that took place on December 15 last year, but fans of the venue are now concerned it may never reopen as the Metropolitan Police have requested it not regain its licence.

The potentially devastating impact this decision will have on the local area has been highlighted by many in the borough, including by members of the charity Brixton Chamber Orchestra who are formed of musicians from the area.

Silas Armstrong, the groups marketing and development manager, said: “I completely disagree with it. I totally understand why it closed when it did but it has been closed for far too long now and for the importance of Brixton’s culture and also the local economy it needs to open and it needs to open soon.

“I was out last night in Brixton and it was a ghost town compared to what it used to be when there was a gig on.”

Lambeth Council have yet to make a decision on the future of Brixton Academy and have said they are carrying out a health and safety review as part of their investigations.

The review began at the start of this year and is being independently led by former council chief executive Paul Martin, along with the Metropolitan Police.

Lambeth’s current chief executive, Bayo Dosunmu, said: “I appreciate that the O2 Academy Brixton is an iconic and much-loved venue, and the impact of the current closure will be felt keenly by many people in Brixton and further afield.

“However, we are acutely aware of our fundamental health and safety responsibility, and that this consideration overrides all others.”

Artists that have added their support on social media by asking fans to sign petitions to encourage the council to reopen the Academy include Muse, Garbage and The Prodigy.

While there is a lot of support focused on reopening the Academy, there are some who are concerned that the focus should be on what led to the closure in the first place.

Ife Thomas, a lawyer and the founder of Black Protest Legal Support UK, said: “We should not be having discussions about opening until we address the problems.

“The crush happened because the building is not safe. The focus needs to be on people who were directly impacted by the crush, not on the opening.”

Thomas raised her concerns that no public inquiry into the crush had been announced and therefore it would be difficult to get to the truth of what took place and the lessons that need to be learnt.

Johnny, a DJ from London, agreed that safety needs to be the priority but added that the venue should get a chance to make changes.

“Safety has to come first, but I would be sad if that (closure) was the permanent outcome of this,” he said.

“I don’t want this incident to be used as ‘it’s Brixton, it’s an Afrobeats person, a Black artist, therefore it is trouble and it should be closed.’ I hope that lessons can be learned, do things better and continue.”

Brixton Academy is owned by Academy Music Group Limited who run at least 17 other venues in England and Scotland including London-based The Forum in Kentish Town and the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

The deadly incident in December resulted in the deaths of Rebecca Ikumelo, 33 who was there to see Afrobeats singer, Asake, and Gaby Hutchinson, 23, a security guard working at the venue. The crush has initially been blamed on people turning up to see the performance without a ticket and poor management by the security contractor.

Lambeth Council originally suspended the venues licence to operate for three months, but there is currently no timeline for how long that suspension will continue.

Armstrong said: “I’m a local resident so I feel passionate about this personally, but from Brixton Chamber Orchestra’s perspective, we do have ties with the council and we have been speaking to councillors. We’ve even floated the idea of doing a pop-up performance outside to try to rally a crowd, but of course we do not want to do anything that could disrupt or negatively affect the push for reopening it.

“I think to reopen Brixton Academy, instead of it being a commercial gig, I think they can do a really big celebration of Brixton, a community concert, maybe even free, but still ticketed, or ticketed with money going to local charities and local businesses. I know the artists really want to reopen it and play it already. It is all the legal and health and safety people that we need to win over first.”

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