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Hannah White, The Sound Lounge
Photograph: Jack Latimer

This Londoner is building a grassroots venue for upcoming musicians

When Hannah White saw music venues closing around the capital, she decided to set up her own

Written by
Rachael Funnell

When Hannah White started gigging in London a decade ago, she was saddened by lots of the city’s venues closing. In 2015, she decided to launch The Sound Lounge with her husband Keiron as a place where upcoming artists could perform. Over the last five years, the venue has moved around the city, as they’ve faced issues with developers and funding. Now it’s running as a pop-up in Morden as they work on opening a new permanent spot in Sutton.

London has always been my home but my childhood here wasn’t idyllic. I grew up with drugs, violence and crime around me. I started writing songs as a way to help me deal with those issues, but I was desperately private about them in the early years.

When I started performing, I found bringing people together through music hugely transformative. But lots of music venues were closing at the time and it was getting harder to find work. I decided to open The Sound Lounge so I could use music to help others in the way that it had helped me.

At the start, we had young artists coming to us from really desperate and difficult situations, yet by the end of the project they were mixing with BBC producers. We set it up in the recording studio my husband was running in Colliers Wood. We built a coffee bar and a tiny stage and started doing these YouTube sessions where we invited musicians to perform.

We launched a crowdfunding campaign so we could fund a bigger venue in a derelict space in Tooting. The response was amazing – we raised £15,000 in 40 days and people offered to help out with everything from plumbing to PR.

Eventually, we were forced to close down by a developer who wanted to build flats on the site. Despite a petition which gathered loads of support, we were evicted along with about 20 other independent businesses. It was really emotional. We’d put in all this effort and people had invested in our idea so we felt a massive responsibility to them.

Opening a music venue in London hasn’t been easy. Since our Tooting place closed, we’ve been operating in meanwhile spaces. We’re currently based in a disused bank in Morden. It’s basically a concrete box, but it’s amazing what a lick of paint and 200 metres of fairy lights can do.

We’ve had a lot of support which shows there’s a demand for live music in London. We’re currently setting up a permanent space in Sutton, which is a 250-capacity venue.

We’re hopeful that we can make this project sustainable, especially since the Music Venue Trust’s announcement that from April, grassroots venues will be eligible for a reduction in business rates. I think there’s an exciting future ahead.

Now meet more incredible Londoners

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If you’ve read our regular ‘My London Story’ feature in the free Time Out London magazine or online, you’ll know that there’s no end of fascinating, inspiring people in this city of ours. From activists to hairdressers, mermaids to hedge-trimmers and aviators to refugees, we’ve met some incredible Londoners this year. Here are a few of the best.

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