Will we be forced to say goodbye to the UK’s nightlife?
Earlier this year, legendary Manchester nightclub Sankeys closed after the building was sold off to developers wanting to turn it into flats. It was just one of a number of late night venues, pubs and clubs to have closed in the last few years as rising rents and property prices drive places out of business.
The facts are stark – according to the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), which represents venues, there has been a near 3% drop in licensed hospitality premises in Great Britain since 2015. In London alone, nearly half of all nightclubs have closed in the past 10 years, while the capital has lost a quarter of its pubs since 2001 and 58 percent of its LGBT venues since 2006. In 2016, there were 19 London boroughs with no recorded LGBTQ venues. And with the night time economy worth £26 billion just in London, it’s a situation that can’t be ignored.
Paul Fletcher, previous owner of Sankey’s, highlights the cultural attraction of venues, citing fabled nightclub The Hacienda as a reason why people used to visit Manchester. He said: ‘Speaking from a Mancunian point of view its really important to keep music venues open. We’re basically famous for two things – music and football.
‘We have always had great music venues that have some great stories behind them which really has shaped the city and attracted people to Manchester. ‘It’s a cool place we have, a great identity and the music venues play a huge part of that. I don’t think its any coincidence we have the highest student population in Europe. ‘The amount of times I’ve heard people my age talk about how they came to Manchester for university or other reasons because of the Hacienda is unbelievable and I’ve heard the same thing about the current Manchester music scene.
‘It’s part of what attracts people to Manchester which in turn keeps creatives keep coming to the city, so the scene keeps evolving. ‘Our city’s rich heritage in music is unusual and such an asset and I genuinely feel that our council should be supporting certain venues in Manchester in a similar way to something that’s recently happened in Berlin.’
The city government in the German capital, which is known for its own famous clubbing scene, has promised €1 million to fund noise protection in clubs, meaning neighbours will not be bothered by noise from the venue or revelers. It’s a similar move that Amy Lame, appointed as London’s very first Night Czar last year, hopes to see implemented in London with the agent of change principle in the new draft London Plan. The policy means that any developers building near existing venues will be responsible for soundproofing them and designing sound reduction. ‘It’s a balance,’ she says. ‘London wasn’t built to be a sound proof city but everyone wants to come and enjoy the culture.’
She added: ‘This is the manifestation of something that’s been brewing for quite a long time and it’s going to take time to stem those flow of closures and reverses. ‘It’s not a quick fix solution. We’re changing things so it creates better opportunities for venues to thrive. These are the kinds of places that make London London. We have to resist this blandification.’
Amy, who celebrated her year anniversary as Night Czar at the beginning of November, is determined to stop these closures because the capital ‘is a global leader in this field’. ‘I would challenge any other city to match it, especially in terms of diversity,’ she said. ‘That’s one of our strongest points, there’s something for everyone. We ignore this at our peril. ‘I don’t want to see it happening. I want us to get to a place where we can see green shoots of growth, we need to stabilise, we need to create conditions where entrepreneurs can take risks and open up new venues.
‘There’s an economic, cultural and human argument. We want the stars of the future which not only bring joy but are also a huge economic driver to our city. ‘There’s a talent pipeline. If they’re closed people don’t have places to play and we could end up economically poor and culturally poor and it will be a less interesting place to live.
‘It’s also a huge draw for visitors. We’re known around the world for our cultural offering. It’s incredible that people outside the UK see pubs as part of our culture, and I think we need to shift our value of that as well.’ But is it as bad as it all seems? Paul says Manchester initially struggled with larger capacity venues monopolising the city, which made it difficult for medium sized venues to survive. But, he says, this has helped it to diversify. ‘I think there will always be a “scene”, especially in cities like Manchester where it seems to be ingrained into our culture,’ he said. ‘The city is certainly more vibrant and diverse then it ever has been, there are more venues and nights than ever before.
‘The smaller venues seem to be becoming more popular again with the development of new bars around the city, with some great small basement spaces as well, so I think on that tip the nightlife in Manchester is still healthy, it’s just ever changing.’ Amy points towards the reopening of Fabric, along with the scrapping of the controversial form 696 and the fight to keep the Joiners Arms an LGBT venue, as successes in her first year.
But she warns it’s only the start, and says the new draft London Plan is a step towards stemming the flow of closures. ‘I feel very proud and pleased with the way things have gone but there’s also a lot more work to be done,’ she added. Printworks, a 6,000 capacity venue in Surrey Quays, London, is undoubtedly a success story. Vibration Group strategy and creative director Simeon Aldred tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I think there is a lot of pressure out there for sure.
‘It might be dire if you don’t change with the market. Music, fashion, the arts change so rapidly. I guess if your frame stays static you are going to struggle to present the latest trend and offer new thought and cultural leadership.’ Simeon says people don’t want a one dimensional venue anymore, they are looking for spaces that cater to a number of different acts, one reason why Printworks is thriving.
He said: ‘We’re all about partnerships. We have worked with some of the best promoters, creatives and designers to bring London a bold, new space that everyone was asking for. ‘People don’t want a one dimensional venue, they want to go to a space that acts differently each time they engage. Whether it’s an electronic music show, food event, theatre or the royal ballet, our space is designed to be a canvas for all. ‘We have a bold new venue strategy and are looking to bring to market a number of large new spaces for London. We are convinced London wants more space that Londoners feel is theirs.
‘We have found spaces that evolve into something new, something usable.’ He says the venue has received ‘100% community support’, and is humbled by the support the project has been given. ‘It’s given us confidence in the UK arts and culture market and that our audience want new, exciting experiences,’ he adds.