The Bear Club saved from closure after Luton Town FC's property arm buys historic building

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An iconic jazz venue in Luton has been saved from closure after the property arm of Luton Town FC bought its building.

Uncertainty about the Bear Club’s future had been circulating for months after the freeholders of the Mill Yard site announced their decision to sell the venue.

Last month, Luton News reported that the building’s new owners were “keen to keep” the venue open, but the buyers were not revealed. On Friday, 2020 Developments, the property division of the football club said that it was about to finish buying the historic building on Guildford Street, bringing an end to the speculation about the Bear Club having to relocate.

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Gary Sweet, CEO of LTFC and 2020 Developments, said: “When we learnt that the building was about to be sold to a buyer which meant The Bear would be left homeless, we simply could not stand by and let it happen. It means too much to the town, its endangered nightlife and its independent cultural spirit.”

Band performing in The Bear Club. Picture: Neil SimmondsBand performing in The Bear Club. Picture: Neil Simmonds
Band performing in The Bear Club. Picture: Neil Simmonds

The Bear Club sits next to the Power Court site, a new stadium to replace the one at Kenilworth Road, near to the town centre and train station. The area is undergoing major redevelopment, with council plans to close the Bute Street car park to make way for the The Stage project.

Michael Moran, 2020 Development’s COO, explained: “The acquisition of the Mill Yard building, and safeguarding of the Bear Club, is very important in the wider context of our commitment to the regeneration of Luton’s town centre.

"As we’re soon to launch detailed plans for our exciting new stadium on the adjacent 20-acre Power Court site, and with the Bear Club sitting between us, the prospering cultural quarter, the train station and alongside the new Stage development, this is the start of a new era for a long-neglected area of the town that’s being brought back to brilliant new life.

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"This location is a good investment for the club too, as we aim to fulfil the great potential of the whole area for our local and football communities.”

Co-owners Neil Simmonds and Giles Willits were relieved and excited about the news. They said: “'The Bear Club is an important cultural asset for the town and we’re utterly delighted that the new owner of the building is stepping in to safeguard the future of the club in its current venue.”

The Bear Club has been serving up top-quality jazz for nearly a decade, and had an outpouring of community support when it first faced closure at the end of January.

At the time, Neil said: “It's a great club, in the international class in terms of the bands that we attract, and people love playing here. People love coming to see bands live. There is obviously a broader threat to grassroots venues like the Bear Club.”

Speaking about the update today, he added: “I hope everybody will be happy because it's been a little bit of a roller coaster for the last few months. Hopefully, we've got a secure future.”

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