How to build a venue from scratch

From derelict to danceable ... how Auro Foxcroft, founder of Village Underground and EartH, turns abandoned spaces into thriving music venues

The Vaccines performing at Village Underground, Pic: Wikimedia Commons

Auro Foxcroft is a man who sees potential in abandoned and derelict spaces. He has set out on a mission to resurrect once-important buildings around London and restore them to their former glory. His two projects, EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney) and Village Underground, have been major successes and both now play host to a rich music scene.

Created in 2006, Village Underground was Foxcroft’s first project. Born out of an old Victorian coal storage space, the large space is now a thriving music venue. After Village Underground’s success, EartH was born when an opportunity to repurpose a former art deco Savoy theatre arose in 2018. EartH is also a popular and thriving music venue.

So how did he build Village Underground from the ground up?

Step 1. Have a clear vision… and an open mind

Starting out in 2006, Village Underground was born through Foxcroft’s desire to create affordable workspaces for creative people trying to get a foothold in London. He said on Culture Fighter in 2012 : “What is particular to London is that there is a lot of creative people here and space for them to work is very expensive.” 

After searching for the perfect space, he came across an old railway viaduct in Shoreditch. Four recycled Jubilee line train carriages and two shipping containers were installed atop the viaduct, creating what the venue have described as a “Strange little haven of calm […] above the chaos of Shoreditch.” These workspaces are now home to all sorts of professionals from playwrights to architects.

Through the process of making these creative spaces, a discovery was made that would be a turning point for the project. Below the viaduct there was an old Victorian coal store. It had been abandoned and left to rot in the darkness.

Ideas were conjured and a gruelling year of restoration followed: clearing the space of all the rubbish; putting a roof on; sandblasting the walls; and installing a floor. Finally, the old coal store was transformed into the venue it is today.

Now the main attraction – and much bigger than the workspaces that crown the venue – Village Underground has a standing capacity of 700 and a seated capacity of 250. It hosts a huge variety of events, from corporate gatherings to club nights and birthday parties.

Step 2. Have a strong business plan

Foxcroft’s business plan has allowed the venue to not only survive but thrive over the past 17 years. With the announcement by Arts Council England (ACE) in 2022 that it was cutting £50m a year from London art organisations in its 2023-2026 statement, many independent venues were forced to close. However, Foxcroft said on Culture Fighter, he: “Purposely set the model up so that it could be sustainable, and it would not be dependent on government funding. [By] relying on commercial work rather than on funders, we just have a little bit more control of our own destiny and a little bit more direction.”

The organisation is run as a “Three-legged stool.” There is a commercial company responsible for taking the loans that make it possible to afford the building of the project, while a non-profit organisation manages the workspaces and is more tax efficient, allowing them to offer the lowest rates of rent for the artists to work there. The money made from commercial activities is then fed back into the non-profit allowing them to run their social and art programmes designed to support up and coming creatives.

Finally, there is a charity that applies for grant funding for social projects, working with the homeless community and other minority groups. The structure of three companies under one umbrella organisation allows them to “Keep the flexibility to act and move and make decisions in way we want to”, says Foxcroft.

Step 3. Don’t forget about the community

Shoreditch is an area of London that has seen massive changes through gentrification, which means disadvantaged communities do not benefit from the positive changes development brings.

Village Underground recognised this and has kept the community as a focal point of its ethos, offering opportunities to local young people. Village Underground work “with young people” Foxcroft says, “so they have shadowing opportunities, something like informal entrepreneurship or informal training”. These opportunities range from working with the lighting crew and learning about techniques and equipment, to filming and editing footage of the events and uploading it onto the internet. It’s a “Live training facility.”

Step 4. Stick to your roots 

Village Underground has stuck to its underground roots through its 17. While the ever-changing area of Shoreditch is unrecognisable from when the venue first opened, Foxcroft believes the venue has “stayed true to [its] underground, independent roots”.

Independent artists are at the heart of the venue, meaning Village Underground is still famous for hosting some of the best underground artists and bands on the rise, providing them with a platform for recognition. The venue prides itself as a place of discovery, where people can attend performances from new and unique artists, often before they have made it big.

After turning one derelict space into a thriving music venue and an organisation that supports a community, why not do it again? Taking it to the next level, Foxcroft opened EartH – an arts and events venue – in 2018. Formerly an art deco Savoy theatre, the Dalston venue is rich in history and architecture.

Aldous Harding at EartH Pic: Wikimedia Commons

An unassuming doorway nestled between a middle eastern restaurant and a tattoo parlour grants entry to EartH. Stretching over two floors, EartH Hall is used as a multi-purpose events space and can hold up to 1200 people. EartH Theatre, a 750-capacity tiered seating venue, occupies the second floor.

In an interview with Clash, Foxcroft describes the beginnings of EartH. “From the random chance discovery of this buried treasure in plain sight to uncovering secret rooms and repeatedly evicting thousands of wily pigeons, it’s been a bizarre ride.”

He continues, “We want to fill the place with the kind of performances that make you think twice and hopefully leave with that feeling of inspiration, possibility and change.”

In the centre of the venue, an old snooker hall, you can find restaurant and bar space, EartH Kitchen. Head Chef Chris Gillard told the Hackney Gazette: “It feels very much like a neighbourhood restaurant, with a little bit more of a casual vibe.”

Continuing their pledge to the community, EartH is home to Studio 36, a community-based music studio, in partnership with music charity Progression Sessions who they let use the space for free. The space is well-equipped and designed to support young music-makers at a time when it’s never been harder to get a leg up in the industry.

For more information about upcoming events at the venues please visit these websites:

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