Management team at St Albans music venue the Pioneer Club are axed

VOLUNTEERS who have breathed life back into a live music venue are being cast aside to make way for paid management.

Although Herts County Council (HCC) has yet to formally notify the management committee of the Pioneer Club in St Albans of its intentions, it confirmed to the Herts Advertiser that it wants to replace them with Youth Connexions from April next year.

Under-18s were stripped of their only regular opportunity to listen to live bands in the city when the club in Heathlands Drive was forced to stop putting on gigs in 2007, largely due to licensing problems.

The management committee members have recently secured a licence and have started to put on regular gigs to not only give youngsters a live music venue but also act as a much-needed platform for up-and-coming musicians.

The re-launch gig last month was an enormous success and for the first time alcohol was on sale to older revellers, which drew in a large crowd of all ages.

HCC, which plans to limit events to 13 to 19 year olds or 25 year olds with learning disabilities, insist that they can provide a more effective service for teenagers and is promising to keep the showcasing of bands a priority.

But Enter Shikari bassist Chris Batten said he feared that the removal of the current management committee could be the first step in closing down the facility at its present site, which has been a concern for a number of years.

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The Pioneer is where the chart-topping St Albans band first started playing gigs. Chris, 24, said the venue has been given a fresh lease of life with the new licence, the ability to sell alcohol and the installation of a state-of-the-art �70,000 audio-visual system.

He continued: “We are obviously disappointed at the news. The committee have gone through all the correct people and right authorities so to us it just seems like a way to limit the amount that is actually going on there so there aren’t any reasons for it not to shut down.

“It will also limit the amount of people that will be able to use it. For the first time, The Pioneer has been able to open a bar and it brought a massive range of ages.”

Councillor Tom Clegg, who was on the management committee of The Pioneer for nine years, said it had done “sterling work” over the years and had opened the facility up to a diverse age range.

He added: “If it does happen it will be a shame not only for the people who work there now, but for all those that have worked extremely hard back as far as the 60s onwards. I just feel like this is the thin end of a wedge.”

Chairman of The Pioneer Charity Ann Brooks said that she could not make any formal comment in the absence of official notice from HCC but she confirmed that they had been advised verbally and by way of draft documentation that County Hall wanted to terminate their lease.

A spokesperson for HCC said that Youth Connexions already provided a young people’s centre and regular Friday night live music events at The Pioneer and intended to start regular Saturday evening events.

Terry Douris, the county council’s deputy executive member for education and skills, added: “The county council is committed to ensuring that there will be no disruption to any existing services and user groups of the Pioneer Youth Centre and I’d like to thank the management committee for their work and the role they have played at the venue.”