Whether it’s The Beatles or Dizzee Rascal, British nightlife is an institution that has given rise to some of the biggest musical talents to come from these shores. But today, the venues that brought these acts to fame are severely diminished. In last 10 years, nearly half of the UK’s nightclubs have shut up shop.
In an attempt to protect British nightlife from further devastation, the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) launched the #SaveNightlife campaign, a nationwide movement that is voicing the concerns of venues, artists and, more importantly, the public.
Alan Miller, who is chairman of the NTIA and spearheaded this campaign, said: “If we close the dancefloors, there won’t be another opportunity to have the next Ed Sheeran, Adele or Wiley. Clubs and venues are where artists cut their teeth. This is why the #SaveNightlife campaign is about having our voices heard. We want everyone in the ecosystem to be involved – from DJs to the people – to ensure the venues that are still here, including the new ones, are protected and seen as part of our cultural tapestry.”
Following the closure of Fabric, one of Britain’s most renowned nightclubs, the #SaveNightlife campaign was instrumental in helping to galvanise industry support and work with the Fabric team to help ensure the London venue didn’t disappear for good. The campaign worked alongside the #SaveOurCulture mobilisation that acted as the platform to let the public have their say – leveraging their voice to the powers that be. As we know, Fabric reopened in January this year – a victory that demonstrated the collective influence of the people.
Before the turmoil of Fabric in 2016, the campaign’s roots started in a different area of London almost two years ago. Hackney, a vibrant and bustling nightlife area, also came under scrutiny from the local council, which wanted to halt the openings of all new venues.
Miller said: “The ‘We Love Hackney’ campaign was the early beginnings of #SaveNightlife. After Hackney Council said ‘no more new clubs considered appropriate’ in 2015, we challenged them and got the public involved. The council argued local residents had had enough – citing noise pollution. But we had already canvased 5,500 people – 95 percent of them were residents with a huge majority vastly in favour of Hackney’s night time economy.”
Through this public show of support for Hackney’s nightlife, the council were forced into rethinking their actions. Since then, the council have engaged in positive dialogue with the NTIA and gave a 15-year lease to the Village Underground, protecting one of London’s most unique and renowned night time venues.
“The fact that Hackney Council provided this lease to the Village Underground was fantastic, especially when they could’ve sold it off as flats,” said Miller. “This is what gave us the inspiration and recognition that having the public involved and sending in emails to councillors and MPs, alongside getting press coverage, can be hugely successful in protecting and celebrating nightlife across the country.”
The #SaveNightlife website allows supporters to send a message directly to their local councillor, which has been a driving force in voicing the concerns of the public. Miller said: “When local councillors receive emails from their constituents, especially from the younger generation whose opinions they don’t normally hear, they start paying real attention. The campaign gives the people the chance to say how important nightlife is – to jobs, culture, and that it shouldn’t be suffocated because of cuts or ideas from authorities.”
There are many reasons why the UK is seeing dwindling numbers of nightclubs. The loss of property has been a major issue, with rising costs heaping pressure on venues. #SaveNightlife is campaigning also to help create opportunities where venues own their freeholds and secure fixed rent so they don’t become a victim of spiralling costs.
Regulations imposed from crime has also been crippling for the industry. Where businesses in other sectors wouldn’t be prosecuted if a crime occurred on its site, any incident that happens on the premises of a club or bar has been made the responsibility of the venue time and time again.
“Over the last decade, police have felt the pressure with resources. Even though statistics show serious crime has decreased, the police still need to find a way to tackle the increase in spikes of crime. Lack of resources, combined with stats-based policing, has left the night time economy very exposed. As a result, the police put pressure on bars and clubs. All of a sudden more and more conditions get imposed and then it’s death by a thousand cuts. It might not be as dramatic as the Fabric situation, but the psychological and financial pressure has been immense. This has been the big problem across the country,” explained Miller.
Of course, the ultimate aim of the campaign is to deliver sustainability for British nightlife, but it’s not about going to battle with local authorities or the police, it’s about harnessing the voice of the people develop partnerships. This is what the NTIA aims to achieve with #SaveNightlife.
“The key aspect here is partnership – working side-by-side to make nightlife better for everyone,” said Miller. “We all know council and police authorities are under pressure, but what we’re saying is let’s work together. As a grassroots campaign, we are the eyes and ears of the community. It would be a big step forward for everyone if we can work as a unit towards a common goal.”
Taking inspiration from Amsterdam, London appointed a designated Night Czar and Night Time Commission in November 2016, a crucial step which the NTIA and #SaveNightlife have long supported. As well as preserving London’s nightlife, this infrastructure is tasked with transforming the capital into a 24-hour city. But to do so, the need for councils to grant 24-hour licences – of which very few exist – will be instrumental. Following the newly elected Metro Mayors in Manchester and Liverpool, the NTIA is already working closely with Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham to help ensure the long term development of the cultural and economic benefits of both great music cities are harnessed and championed.
Miller added: “We have demonstrated in London how you can work with a mayor to get this night time infrastructure in place. We need champions of the city who understand the benefits of nightlife. And that’s why we are campaigning to establish representatives in other UK cities. We have exciting offers we are going to make to the industry soon – things that don’t currently exist and will strengthen our industry with propositions.”