The Roadmender celebrates a special anniversary

Posted 11th January 2024

Sammy Jones speaks to Natalie Norris-Lee, co-owner of the Roadmender as she celebrates a special anniversary.

Fourteen years ago, Natalie’s husband Dave came home with an idea: ‘How about we take over the Roadmender?’ he suggested. After laughing at the suggestion, smiles gave way to serious conversations, and they approached the trust that owns the venue.

Suddenly they found themselves at the helm of a venue that has played host to some of the biggest names in music.

Dave had a long-running association with The Roadmender, having supplied security there, but neither of them had the necessary experience to run a venue.
Tech-specs and riders and sound levels and a zillion other aspects of venue management were new things to be tackled. But they had a passion.

“My background was in hospitality and Dave’s was running the security business,” Natalie said, “So the business side of things wasn’t the biggest concern, but the music industry is a completely different kettle of fish. We went into it blindfolded and a little bit naive!” she smiles. You might say they were thrown in at the deep end.

“The day we took over, The Roadmender was hosting a club night, and 90% of the staff had left. I was working for TGI’s at the time and called on lots of my colleagues who came and gave their support, rolling up their sleeves and helping turn what could have been a nightmare into a successful first event.

“During the early days at the venue we had some really great people around us who guided and supported us and we learned fast. We had no choice!”
That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges to face – Covid being the most testing. The pandemic ruined many arts venues, and The Roadmender was closed for well over a year. It was a bleak time.

“Like so many other businesses, we thought we would never be able to recover,” Natalie admits, “Without the government’s support, the Arts Council grants, The Music Venues Trust, and most importantly of all, the support from our amazing supporters with the Crowdfunding scheme, we wouldn’t have made it,” she acknowledges, “But, despite all the hardship and tragedy that Covid presented, it also pulled people together, and we have a rock solid community. We feel privileged to have such amazing support.”

That’s not to say Natalie and Dave don’t still face challenges – they do.

“We don’t receive any council funding, so in order for the venue to survive, we have to run it on a tight shoe string. Dave and I do everything from maintenance to bookings, finances, marketing, cleaning, rotas and Health and Safety, and so on.

“We have a fantastic team of bar staff and security who are like extended family, and we couldn’t do it without them, and of course the promoters who put on shows are integral to the success too.”

So that’s a retrospective look at their time so far, but the duo are very much looking ahead right now.
“We want to ensure the venue survives and does even more of what people want. The ideal would be if we could open for four or five days a week providing the same fantastic content and up and coming content…”

If sheer hard work counts for anything, Natalie and Dave will smash it!

Natalie’s Top 5 ‘Mender shows:

Fontaines D.C.
This was an unbelievably special gig for all of us – the first show back after the venue had been closed for 492 days because of the Covid pandemic.
One customer described the gig as ‘a euphoric release after Covid’ and it was one hell of a show.

The Magic Numbers
The first gig after we took the Roadmender over. It was a great set and will always have a special place in our heart.

The show put on by these guys was incredible! The energy and the visuals were mind blowing. It took eight hours to load in, and I honestly didn’t think all the kit would even fit, but we got there.

Soul II Soul
I have totally personal reasons for this one. They were ‘my’ band when I was growing up, and I felt star struck and blessed to be having them play at the Roadmender.

College gigs
Northampton College holds its annual end of year show here, and it’s great to see the bands, artists and tech side grow year on year. It is usually a three year course, so you really see the progression in their confidence and ability, and the students love the fact that they are playing on a stage that has hosted so many legends.