Bedford music fans rejoice: Esquires has finally reopened its doors this week, following a long 14 months of closure, and you might not recognise the place.
The legendary grassroots music venue in Bedford, which turned 30 last year, has been under constant restrictions since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, hosting only a handful of socially distanced shows since.
However, owners Gareth and Lou Barber and the Esquires team have not been sitting on their hands, but have used their enforced period of closure wisely, with major improvements and investment back into the building, futureproofing it for Bedford’s music lovers for many years to come.
Initially only receiving a minimal amount of grant support from central government, the future looked bleak for the much-loved venue. Offered no alternative, Esquires turned to its loyal supporters to help cover their substantial overheads.
Aiming to raise £20,000 through a reward-led Crowdfunder, Esquires ended up raising over £51,000 and has since been awarded support from Arts Council England’s ‘Cultural Recovery Funding’, ensuring their survival as a cultural hub in the town.
“The support through the Crowdfunder was incredible,” said Gareth.
“At that moment we were looking at a very bleak future, with huge overheads and potentially no income for a very long time, although I never thought it would be 14 months.
“With the successful application for the Cultural Recovery Funding, we were able to really look at what we could do to improve the facilities at Esquires with the extra Crowdfunding money we raised.
“It was clear that our customers believe in the venue as much as we do, and we wanted to repay that trust by making sure that every last penny and more was spent on making the space better.”
And make the space better they have, with the welcome to Esquires almost unrecognisable from days past.
As well as a brand-new outside seating area and a revamp of the front of the building, inside has seen all four of the restrooms completely renovated, new flooring throughout, the downstairs bar refurbished and much, much more.
“Although this last year or so has been really hard for myself and everyone connected to the venue, it has also given us time to take stock and really focus on what is important for us and our customers as we move forward,” said Gareth.
“We would never have had the ability to shut for three weeks to modernise the toilet facilities here, so we’ve tried to use this time positively – although I’m not sure what regular gig-goers will make of marble sinks in Esquires.”
Gareth is aware that some of the improvements will never be noticed by visitors, including investment to fix the roof, resurface our fire exits and, “put in some supports to hold the old girl up, but we hope most of the work will really surprise people when they are able to visit us again.”
Esquires for all
“For us, this weekend is like opening up the venue all over again and we’re not stopping now,” he said.
“We’ve started making plans to make the venue fully accessible, with initial work put in to ramp areas for a future lift install and we have air conditioning finally going into the main stage area next week.”
The venue is due to play host to many, top national and international touring artists over the next few months, including Tom Grennan, Lee Scratch Perry, Don Broco, Squid, Billy Nomates, Everything Everything and many more.
Esquires is back open for socially distanced shows again from this weekend, with a varied programme of events taking place.
“We want to thank everyone for their support and patience with all of the rescheduled shows,” Gareth told the Bedford Independent.
“What we need now is for everyone to go out and pick up a ticket, come grab a beer or three and say hi – we can’t wait to see everyone enjoying the venue again.”