Circus group ‘devastated’ as quadrupling of rent forces them to close

A much-loved community circus in Cardiff has announced it will have to close its doors due to steep rent increases, leaving members “absolutely devastated”. Up Side Down Circus currently rents a unit on Tremorfa Industrial Estate, but will close later in May after new owners announced a rent increase that will ultimately see costs more than quadruple and that’s before VAT and business rates.

The community group faces a rent increase from £5,448 per year to an average of £22,050 per year over several years, both before tax, under a new deal. Co-founder Chris Moore said: “We’ve worked so hard to create this training space and we have an amazing community here. I just can’t believe we’re going to lose everything.”

Chris founded the circus in Splott as a community business with fellow circus performer and trainer Tammi Brown after the pair worked together at NoFit State Circus. They rented the unit from Business in Focus – a social enterprise designed to support Welsh businesses to start up and grow. For the latest Cardiff news, sign up to our newsletter here.

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Chris and Tammi, with the help of family and friends, have worked hard to transform the empty unit into a thriving training space used by professional artists, school groups and community participants. Since 2017, Up Side Down Circus has offered evening and weekend classes including aerial hoop, aerial yoga, Chinese pole, juggling, rope and silk, with an emphasis on physical and mental health. Chris – who has ADHD, autism and dyslexia – struggled to fit in at school, but felt happy and accepted when he joined the youth circus. He has worked hard to make the training room friendly and inclusive.

The group has approximately 700 members, including 300 regular customers. The team regularly organizes community shows and provides space for professional artists to work. The cast of the Wales Millennium Center’s sold-out Christmas cabarets used the training room to rehearse and Ian H Watkins of pop group Steps has been training on the flying trapeze.

Co-founder Chris Moore said telling the community about the closure is one of the hardest things he has done(Image: Mark Lewis)
Up Side Down Circus is due to close later in May(Image: Mark Lewis)

Business in Focus confirmed in January that the building would be sold and within a month Chris was told that there was a new owner who wanted to increase the rent. Documents seen by WalesOnline show that January rent was £454 excluding VAT, which equates to £5,448 over a year plus business rates and VAT. A letter to Chris on behalf of the new owners detailed rent increases rising to £24,500 per annum after four years, excluding VAT.

The tenants were offered a five- or ten-year lease with incentives of a number of rent-free months or a gradual rent increase over the first four years of the deal; the five-year lease from £16,500 per year or the 10-year lease from £12,500 per year. Both would increase steadily each year and average £22,050 per year over the life of the lease.

In other words, before business rates and VAT are taken into account, the circus would immediately see its rent increase by more than £10,000 per year, with the rent after a few years being more than four times what they currently pay . With business rates, insurance and service charges all set to rise, Chris said it would be impossible to continue the business he has built.

The property features a colorful mural by local artist Dom Tsoi, inspired by traditional circus performances(Image: Mark Lewis)
The circus has been a widely used community facility(Image: Mark Lewis)

Other small businesses in the units have also been affected. Chris said they worked together for Business in Focus and asked local politicians for support, but felt abandoned and didn’t know where to turn. He added that writing to loyal community members to tell them he would have to close was one of the hardest things he has ever had to do.

Dr. Jordan Holt, a clinical psychologist who has been teaching trapeze at Up Side Down for the past five years, described it as her “safe place”, adding: “I have made so many friends here.” Childcare worker Darren Thomas, who trains flying trapeze and juggling, said he could not believe the news, while designer and trapeze student Paige Strugnell described it as “truly devastating”.

James Aston, asset manager on behalf of the building’s new owner Culross Newcastle, said: “The proposed rent increase is for a number of years and remains significantly below the average price per square meter for comparable units in that area.”

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