Key voices in the fight to save our nightlife tell us why we should care about our night-time industries
For many people, nightlife amounts to nothing more than entertainment. It's synonymous with weekend antics and one-off get togethers, or something reserved exclusively for students and young people. But what many fail to recognise is the huge economic and cultural impact of our night-time industries. Live music venues, clubs, bars and more are responsible for the vibrancy of cities around the world, contributing a considerable amount to their financial prosperity and tourism. In the UK, this is backed up by a 2015 report commissioned by the Night Time Industries Association, which states that the UK's night-time economy is 'worth £66 billion, amounting to nearly 6% of the UK's GDP, employing 1.3 million people'.
Despite the stats, night-time culture in the UK is in crisis mode, with restrictions and closures becoming the norm for many cities. The Music Venues Trust, which aims to protect grassroots music venues around the UK, found that '35% of London's grassroots music venues have been lost since 2007'. Clubs are also increasingly facing pressure from all sides, with the recent temporary closure of Fabric emphasising the very real threat of gentrification and development. But from the ashes of the Fabric drama came the appointment of London's very first Night Czar Amy Lamé, who has been tasked with championing nightlife in the capital to ensure that London becomes a true 24-hour city. This is far from a new concept; Amsterdam, Berlin and San Francisco already have similar positions in place. But these cities are also thriving cultural centres, with world-famous venues and clubs that have 24-hour licenses and are responsible for bringing a great deal of money to the local economy. It's no coincidence that nightlife is flourishing in these cities.
Amy Lamé played a large role in the bid to rescue Fabric and it was partly thanks to her negotiating skills that the club reopened in January. She has also been praised for her work in protecting LGBTQ+ spaces as well as making club culture in London more diverse and inclusive. So with all of this in mind, could other cities in the UK benefit from having a night-time champion?
We caught up with some clubs, venues and key voices in UK nightlife to ask this very question, as well as find out more about the threats currently facing our night-time industries.
On the Impact of London's Night Czar
Naomi Miller, Venue Coordinator, Union Chapel: 'People are certainly talking about the issues surrounding the need for her appointment which is a really positive thing. Islington Council seem to be trying to repair their reputation since the Fabric saga by bringing venues together and I think that is down to her and the publicity surrounding what happened here and to other venues in London. I also appreciate the way she is promoting making nightlife safer for women in the capital.'
Alan Miller, Chairman, Night Time Industries Association: 'Having a Night Czar is an enormous step forward for London. The very fact that there is an ambassador that is presenting the case for a smart, partner-based approach to 24-hour activities that benefit everyone is enormous. London has benefitted already, not least because of the ability to have high level talks with a position that is respected and listened to and has access. It has meant that the narrative around night and day is changing and Amy is doing a great job at being able to pose some of these issues.'
On the creation of Night Czars in other cities
Mike Grieve, Managing Director, Sub Club: 'In a nutshell, Glasgow could 100% benefit from this. As an idea I think it's something that's long overdue. And I don't simply mean the Night Czar as a position; I just think there should be some kind of a bridge between the nightlife community and those people that reinforce legislation around nightlife. I think it's imperative if we're going to achieve the right kind of balance.'
Alan Miller (NTIA): 'We at The NTIA are in direct conversations with several Mayors and cities about this. We are in deep talks with Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham and his team as well as in Glasgow and Bristol and a number of our other key cities. Our vision has been all along to have representation and partnership with councillors, officers and representatives – because this is about the curation of the kind of cities and country we all want to live in together.'
Tom Caulker, Managing Director, World HQ: 'Newcastle could maybe benefit from having a Night Czar but it would depend if it was a serious post or not. Easy, subsidised access to dedicated legal counsel for small venues that might need it would be better, as the future seems to hold more and more residential development in the city centre, possibly, at the expense of venues.'
Sacha Lord-Marchionne, Founder, Warehouse Project & Parklife: 'We recently had a new mayor appointed in Manchester and during the election, I was very keen to ask each candidate whether they supported the position of a Night Czar in Manchester. All of them apart from the tosser at UKIP did actually say yes. I think it is really important that key cities take up the idea of the Night Czar because the night-time industry is the fifth biggest industry in the whole of the UK, and we employ more than 8% of the whole UK workforce. It's an area of fun but it's also serious business and there are serious jobs on the line.'
Alan Miller (NTIA): 'Our findings have been that the biggest problem without comparison is the overtly pernicious regulatory climate that arose in the last few years, where venues were held responsible for every individual act – yet never recognised for all the enormous benefits accruing from their work, economic, cultural and social. In licensing and planning, this is key.'
Mike Grieve (Sub Club): 'The biggest difficulty in terms of legislation, without a shadow of a doubt is licensing. Beyond that, planning is a big threat. In the past two weeks, a planning application that went in last year to build a hotel next door to Sub Club was passed. There's the potential for a huge threat to us from that because of noise issues. So the whole idea of the Agent of Change principle is absolutely relevant to our situation and very likely to become a focal point of ongoing conversations surrounding this development next to us.'
Sacha Lord-Marchionne (Warehouse Project): 'Obviously, we had the tragedy in Manchester recently at Ariana Grande's concert, that's the first thing that jumps to mind. And in all honesty, there are no steps you can take in that scenario other than the obvious things like bag checks. In terms of other threats, we have the developers in the city who are closing in. My biggest concern though is always educating kids on the safe use of drugs. I'm not saying the Warehouse Project is a druggie venue. I'd be absolutely stupid and lying to you if I said that there aren't kids on drugs in the Warehouse Project but at the same time, I'd be stupid and lying to you if I said that there aren't drugs in most licensed premises. The closure of Fabric kickstarted it but there are some conversations happening now and there are some senior politicians who are listening, which is about time. Because this saves lives.'
Protecting the future of venues and clubs
Naomi Miller (Union Chapel): 'We are very lucky in the sense that we are protected by being a) a listed building b) a charity and community hub and c) an award winning venue. We have a new block of flats on our doorstep and even though there have only been a handful of times where we have created too much noise, all it takes is one neighbour to take against us and we'd be in trouble. I would like to see us and other venues protected in a way that one person doesn't decide all our futures.'
Tom Caulker (World HQ): 'Establish a principle that any developers have to over spec soundproofing in new and future city centre residential properties, where they are being located near a pre-existing (music led) venue. That's a really simple positive step the council should take. I'm not against a Czar, but they would need power to change these kinds of things and not be just another out of touch waffler with no teeth.'
Sacha Lord-Marchionne (Warehouse Project): 'I think in Manchester it's so important, and this has worked really well in London, to extend our transport system. We have this great transport system and at the weekends on a Friday and Saturday night, on the busiest nights of the week, when there are tens of thousands of people in the city centre, the tram system stops at 12.30am. How shit is that?'
Mike Grieve (Sub Club): I don't think that one individual person is going to fix everything but I think it's really about joined up thinking. It's about inclusion, it's about all the agents of the local authority and all the legislative agents, creative agencies, arts councils etc. coming together to work to some kind of a game plan rather than what seems to be a piecemeal approach which is purely market led. I would like to see some kind of commission, not just for Glasgow or for Edinburgh or for the individual cities, but something on a national level where there was a recognition of the importance of nightlife to Scottish cultural life and to Scottish business life.'
Alan Miller (NTIA): 'We all need to work together; clubs, bars, restaurants, theatres, developers, councillors, artists, the police, scientists and visionaries – united with a vision to make our cities forward leading 22nd century places of brilliance, creativity and advancement for all. Nightlife has always been the key component of a dynamic and intelligent city – from the coffee houses and salons of 17th and 18th century to our venues today. We ask all in every city to get involved and have their voices heard, like with Fabric and with We Love Hackney where we changed policy by local people signing up and councillors hearing their voices.'
To join the fight to save our nightlife, visit savenightlife.com and sign the petition that goes directly to your local councillor.
A working church, a drop-in homeless centre and a beloved music venue – Union Chapel sort of does it all, doesn't it. The Grade I listed building first opened its doors as a venue in 1991 as part of a programme to restore the building and to increase…