The building that houses The Ferret on Fylde Road has gone on the market for £795,000, leaving the operators of the city’s only certified grassroots music venue uncertain of its future once their lease expires next year.
The part three and part four-storey property is described in a listing with Morgan Martin commercial estate agents as a “superb investment/development opportunity” with the “potential for residential conversion, subject to the appropriate consent”.
The outlet originally opened as The Mad Ferret in 2006 and has been a cornerstone of the University of Central Lancashire’s student quarter ever since.
Sue Culshaw, managing director of the company that acquired the venue in 2013, says that the news of the building’s intended sale came as a body blow after a successful battle to ensure the survival of the business during a quiet two years caused by Covid.
“After all that our supporters and audience did for us – raising money, doing benefit concerts and donating merchandise – this has come as a shock.
“We had a little bit of an idea, as people had been around doing valuations – and I asked the question, but was told that our lease would be up for renewal next year.
“We have also been doing quite a lot of work to the building to make sure that everything is safe and satisfies current standards. We have upgraded the sound system so that it meets national requirements for touring bands – and we get nothing but praise from the artists and their agents.
“A lot of live music venues have been under threat around the country and many have closed down, but The Ferret has now been here for 16 years.
“It’s the only grassroots music venue, not just in Preston, but the surrounding areas. And we don’t just put music on of a Friday or Saturday night – to be [classed as] a grassroots music venue, most of your business has to come from live performance, much of it original material and supporting local emerging talent,” Sue explained.
The Ferret currently employs around 10 staff and has famously played host to musicians on the cusp of making the big time. Ed Sheeran appeared at the venue in the summer of 2011, just weeks before the release of his debut album.
Sue says that the appetite for live music in the wake of the pandemic has not yet been fully recaptured, but she was hoping that the summer months would see the business finally put a difficult period behind it. However, the planned sale of the site means that the drumbeat of an even bigger threat to its existence can now be heard in the distance.
“The price is way out of our league, but maybe there would be other interested parties who would look at helping us to buy the building and get into some kind of charitable trust, so that the whole place could be devoted to music and creative arts – maybe even recording studios or something like that. That would be a dream come true.
“We will do everything we possibly can so that The Ferret continues in whatever building [it may be], but having spent so much money, time and effort to bring the venue up to standard – and having had help from the Arts Council as well – it would feel like a waste to have to move.”
Jay Taylor, from national charity the Music Venue Trust, says that it would be “catastrophic” for somewhere like Preston to lose a place like The Ferret.
“Manchester and Liverpool have quite a few grassroots music venues. But in Preston, you can’t overestimate the importance of The Ferret in doing that cultural development work for the city – from encouraging new sound engineers to poster designers.
“Ninety-five percent of venues like The Ferret have a landlord who is not connected to the business and so they have no investment in what those venues are trying to achieve.
“An improved world would be where more venues owned their buildings. But we will now be working with The Ferret to support them in any way we can,” Jay added.
The Ferret’s lease expires in September 2023. Part of the remainder of the building is occupied by the The Red Kite School of Thai and Kickboxing, while the rest of the plot is vacant.
The estate agent’s listing describes the £795,000 price tag as a “guide piece”.
It adds: The premises occupy a prominent position fronting Fylde Road (A583), directly opposite the UCLAN Student Union building and situated in the heart of the University Quarter.
“The property is situated adjacent to a small retail parade where there is a variety of occupiers including a small convenience store, Subway, a variety of takeaways and a tanning studio. Approximately a quarter of a mile to the south is the main city centre retail area.
“The area is the principal and most vibrant student area in the city centre and, at its peak, benefits from a high foot flow from both students and staff travelling to and from the University, where approximately 30,000 students attend.”
The landlord of the building – Preston-based Strettles & Co. Property Letting and Management Ltd. – was approached for comment on the proposed sale.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service also approached Preston City Council about the cultural value of the venue to the city, but the authority said that it was unable to comment on what is a commercial matter.