Keep Streets Live Activist Forum – July 5th in Leeds

Keep Streets Live Activist Forum – July 5th in Leeds

What’s the problem?

Across the United Kingdom and beyond there is a growing trend towards the privitisation of public space and the use of ‘antisocial behaviour’ legislation to criminalise spontaneous offerings of art and music on the streets and in the public places of our towns and cities.

The Keep Streets Live Campaign was founded to protect access to public space for informal offerings of art and music and to safeguard spontaneity. We want to keep the realm of criminal law far away from street culture, but threats to civic freedoms are growing. From Camden to Oxford, from Bath to Birmingham we have seen local government drawing up plans to use sweeping powers such as ‘Public Space Protection Orders’ to make the simple act of singing songs and playing music on the streets a criminal offence.

What’s the solution?

Other cities such as York and Liverpool, both famous internationally for their vibrant and open culture, have bucked the trend and worked alongside buskers and the Musician’s Union to introduce busking guidance which safeguards spontaneity and allows issues to be dealt with in an amicable and constructive way.

We want to work alongside local government to help them find creative ways of overseeing busking which don’t involve turning musicians into criminals, but we need YOUR help to get this message across:

How can YOU get involved?

On July 5th we will be holding a unique, free one day event in Leeds, West Yorkshire aimed at buskers, street artists and performers, jugglers, musicians, poets, troubadours, activists…In fact, anyone at all who is concerned about the growing threat to freedoms in public space.

You can join the event here and invite friends along too:

You can register for your free ticket here:

We will be asking ourselves some questions.

What actions are we prepared to take to defend the freedoms of public space?

How can the power of art and music be harnessed to resist policies that stifle creativity and spontaneity?

How can buskers, street artists/performers and their supporters build community and best work together for public spaces that are open to the arts and informal street culture?

You don’t need to be an artist or performer to come; anyone who cares about safeguarding cultural freedoms in public space is a welcome participant.

What should we bring?

An open mind, a desire to get involved, your creativity and ideas, and your experiences of art and music in public spaces. There will be some opportunities to spontaneously share music, art, poetry during the day in between sharing and strategising, so feel free to bring your musical instruments/artistic materials along (if you have any!).

In short…

This day long event is open to anyone who wants our streets and public spaces to be open to the arts and other grassroots community uses.

As you would expect for a busking event, there is no fixed price for entrance but voluntary donations towards the cost of running the event will be gratefully accepted.

There are a limited number of places available so please click through the eventbrite link below and confirm your attendance:

The event will be facilitated by Mike Love from Together For Peace, a Leeds based community organisation that builds bridges between people from different cultures, communities and life experience.

Jonny Walker, founding director of the Keep Streets Live Campaign, will give a short overview of the current UK busking landscape.

Bath Abbey Letter Against Buskers

Bath Abbey Letter Against Buskers

We are publishing this extraordinary letter from the Rector of Bath Abbey which asks his congregation to push for restrictions against buskers in the city of Bath that would marginalise them and push them out of the cultural life of the city.

Freedom of expression in an open and democratic society must extend to street musicians and the ideas they convey in our public spaces. By calling upon the state to use its coercive power to stifle the cultural freedoms of a group of which he disapproves, the Rector of Bath Abbey has caused unnecessary division and controversy. The issues that have arisen in Bath need to be resolved through ongoing dialogue and negotiation, not the heavy handed misapplication of a far-reaching law.

B&NES Street performers Consultation letter 2015 (1)

Bath’s Buskers Under Threat-Keep Streets Live Stands With Them

Bath’s Buskers Under Threat-Keep Streets Live Stands With Them


Busking has been described as  an “urban ritual that challenges the way in which we think about public space by promoting spontaneous, democratic, intimate encounters in some of the city’s most “routinized and alienating environments” (Tanenbaum cited in Simpson, n.d., p. 3). It is hard to think of a less alienating environment than the public square outside of Bath Abbey where buskers have performed for many decades in the shadow of that beautiful church building. The high culture of the choral evensong has long mingled with the ‘low’ culture of the musicians animating the streets outside in the intermingling of cultural and social currents that characterises so many cities. Relationships between the buskers outside the Temple gates and the rector of the Abbey broke down in dramatic fashion when he decided to call a halt to Evensong because buskers could be heard inside the church and penned an emotive article for the Western Daily Press. In the words of Rev Edward Mason:

How do I feel? I feel like weeping. Truly. Weeping for a city ruined by the clamour of music. Weeping for choirs that are victims. Weeping for my staff subjected to music every day. Weeping that we human beings just cannot resolve conflict. (Let’s not look at Syrians and condemn them when we can’t even sort out music amicably!) Weeping for an Abbey that has had a superb ministry of peace, healing and quiet for hundreds of years and which is being subject to the violence of noise.



In talking about the noise from a few buskers Rev Mason writes about the ‘violence of noise’ and draws comparisons with the Syrian conflict. We could speak of the ‘violence’ of his rhetoric and could also question the necessity of his actions in calling a service to a premature close. In any event his words and actions were ‘amplfied’ by the intersection of the social media age with the traditional press and a local dispute had become national news alongside his prominent calls for Bath Council to impose strict controls on the busking community. Almost immediately the Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for neighbourhoods David Dixon was modelling kneejerk local democracy by promising to use new legislation to bring in blanket controls against buskers in response to these complaints and was using Twitter to make his intentions clear.



Bath Council seem to be intent on using the new Public Space Protection Orders to restrict busking in the vicinity of the Abbey. It is highly regrettable that they are considering the use of these illiberal, controversial blanket powers, which will make it very difficult for buskers in Bath to make a living, in response to complaints about the actions of a small minority of musicians. It is a form of collective punishment which harms all buskers and will have a detrimental impact on the cultural vibrancy of Bath which is famous for its diverse street culture scene.

Fortunately there is an alternative. The council have a wide range of existing legal powers that they can use in cases of noise nuisance or obstruction and could target enforcement action against any busker who was causing a genuine problem whilst leaving the vast majority to carry on. In Liverpool the busking community has worked alongside the local authority and the business community to develop busking guidance that promotes harmony between all users of shared public spaces in that city. Instead of blanket bans the council should work alongside the Abbey and the buskers to work out a code that they can all agree upon together. The guidance we produced in Liverpool by working with the council can be seen here and could be a useful template for resolving issues that arise from time to time amicably:

We will write more about this in the coming days but will close for now with a statement released earlier by the busking community of Bath:

‘Bath is a beautiful and vibrant city with a renowned, long standing street music scene that needs to be protected. We’re saddened by the events of the past week and hope we can sit down and reach a positive solution for all parties involved. We still support the mutually agreed code of conduct, which most buskers follow. The issue now is ensuring it is followed by all buskers, so live performance can continue to be enjoyed in Bath.’

Work with the buskers and not against them Bath Abbey and Bath Council! The Keep Streets Live Campaign will be watching this unfolding situation very closely.




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