On the 25th March, the Plymouth Herald released an article about a new leisure complex being built in the place of Bretonside Bus Station. In the £50 million bid, it would renovate the area and introduce a new cinema, shops and restaurants, relocating the coach station to Mayflower West car park. Hearing the news, patrons and supporters of the White Rabbit, a 400 capacity venue, situated in the heart of the bus station, knew that this could spell disaster for the club. People began taking it upon themselves to make their voices heard with petitions and articles to save their favourite music venue from being destroyed and forgotten. In this time over 3000 people have signed a petition online to save the White Rabbit, which encouraged Dan James, owner of the White Rabbit, to get into talks with the council as to what was going to happen when these plans begin. We sat down with Dan to find out more.
PS: So what is going on exactly?
DJ: Well, it’s all quite up in the air. The most information I’ve had is the article that was released in the Herald about the new council development. We’ve been in talks with the council, who said they will help us relocate, but they have no real obligation to rehome us since we’re an independent business, not a charity for example. They will help us by giving us rates relief – cheaper business rates – but it’s up to us to find the building.
We’ve been in talks with our local MP, but it’s a case of when the deal goes through, it’s all signed and agreed, that’s when we’ll get six months notice to move along.
PS: What would you need to restart White Rabbit?
DJ: Once we’ve found a premises, we would need funding to help sound proof it, build toilets, create a stage, put in fire exits etc, but we really don’t have the money. We would definitely need extra help.
PS: What do you think about the redevelopment of Bretonside in general?
DJ: I totally agree with the redevelopment of Bretonside, it’s needed it for a long time. The council, though, need to be careful. There are very few pieces of culture left in this city and the South West really needs more venues. If Plymouth had a 1000 capacity venue, it would really encourage more promotors and agents to send more bands down this way. Through bands and tours, Plymouth gains visitors and contributes to the economy and with so many students in the city, there needs to be a night and social life that makes them stay, with alternatives to Oceana.
PS: What’s your opinion on the music scene in Plymouth? Why is it so important to save it?
DJ: There’s a load of local talent and young bands and there’s a great pride that comes with that. When young bands start out, there’s a load of government funded colleges and rehearsal spaces with grants for musicians, but there’s a lack of support for the venues that are the next stage of that process. Bands need to know that there’s a platform for them to make use of all that hard work and encourage more bands to work hard and get touring, locally, nationally and internationally.
And if you look at Devon and Cornwall, the main locations near Plymouth that get all of the attention from promoters are Bristol and Exeter. But there’s a reason for that, they have the range of venues, ranging in sizes for different types of bands. Most of them like to book shows 6 months in advance and they won’t want to book anything if they’re unsure as to whether they’ll even be a building to play in!
PS: What can your average music lover do to help the Rabbit?
DJ: We need to make the council see what an asset this place can be to Plymouth’s culture. There’s been a petition set up online that currently has over 3,000 supporters but we could always do with more. There’s also been a testimonials Facebook page set up where we’re encouraging anyone who’s had a good night with us, played a show, or just gotten really drunk and made a fool of themselves to share their experiences, to help support our campaign for relocation. It’s not just us though, there’s a whole load of independent businesses in Bretonside that need your support, such as the Last Shop Standing record store. It’s hard enough in this economic climate to set up your own business and I think the council needs to address this, rather than encouraging more and more chains to set up their franchises here.
Keep checking the White Rabbit Facebook page, we’ll do our best to keep everyone informed as to what’s going on. This is going to be a community effort and we’re not afraid to ask for help. It’s great to know there are people out there who are willing to fight for this cause, but everyone needs to remember that the venue is just four walls. The life and soul of this place is what’s worth saving and it can be moved and it will adjust to change. I really do embrace change and if we can find a suitable location to move to, we can make things better and preserve the Rabbit’s spirit under a new guise.
PS: So what do you think the future holds for the White Rabbit?
DJ: We’re in a meeting soon with local MP Tudor Evans to talk about funding and various strategies. I’m aware that sometimes in life, things come and go and even if I can’t save the White Rabbit, someone else will take it and make it happen. There’s a lot to consider and lots of obstacles to overcome such as environmental health, licensing, health and safety.
I just want to thank everyone who’s supported White Rabbit during this time, the overwhelming response from the community has been amazing and it’s given us a massive reason to continue with this. Keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground and by working together, we can make the changes we want to see happen.
To do your bit to help save the White Rabbit, sign the online petition at www.change.org/petitions/tudor-evans-save-the-white-rabbit-plymouth
Or to add your own testimony, visit the White Rabbit Testimonies Facebook page at www.facebook.com/whiterabbittestimonials
Any news, updates and gigs listings for the White Rabbit can be found on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rabbitgigs