Opinion Piece: Life After Clubs
The announcement last week from the Government, laying out the roadmap to a life without restrictions, has got many of us jumping with excitement. However, with clubs still not legally viable to operate until at least June 21st, we’re not out of the woods yet.
It was the news we have all been waiting for. Dates on when various aspects of our old normal life can restart again, albeit pencilled in. Of course, it is a cause for celebration, after many months of living in this seemingly endless limbo and probably the darkest winter we shall ever live through. Unfortunately, these announcements have possibly not come soon enough for our beloved night time venues. Beyond all the excitement of our lives potentially resuming the normal order from early summer, we must not forget the bleak picture from the Night Times Industries Association (NTIA) that came out in early February.
In a heavy dosage of stats, facts and real-life stories – NTIA revealed the findings of their survey that looked into the effects of the lockdowns and restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It revealed some alarming truths about the damage these have had on a sector we all enjoy in various capacities. Stark warnings came through, including most concerningly a staggering 80% of music venues not lasting beyond February without support from the Government. If this were to happen the night time economy (worth £66billion and employing at least 8% of the workforce, making it the fifth-largest economic sector in the UK), would be severely damaged and will take generations to build back up to the level we all knew and loved pre-Covid.
There were issues before facing night time businesses, but the current situation has by and large been created by the ongoing pandemic and the restrictions imposed because of it. It’s true that almost every aspect of the economy has been affected, although it is music venues who’ve been particularly hard hit. Unless businesses were able to quickly adapt their models to suit the rapidly changing rules such as seated groups of 6 or alcohol served only with ‘substantial meals’, then clubs by and large have been closed since March 2020. Despite their forced closures the real costs are still piling up, leaving many with tough decisions to make.
No one ever said that the fallout due to Covid-19 was going to be nice, but in the case of the night time industry it has posed a troubling situation for Whitehall. The Tories love a bit of Laissez Faire in the world – but in the circumstances of clubs this might be dangerously misguided. Following a lack of venues providing spaces for people to dance the night away they’ll likely be a return to illegal raves, not seen on a scale since the late 80s/early 90s. They’ve already been creeping their way back in recent years as more and more venues across the country close. But the last twelve months we’ve seen several major parties taking place, including Manchester’s outdoor summer parties, Bristol’s halloween warehouse event and the New Year dance in an Essex church. These are just three examples of a growing trend, as people look to party in the absence of venues hosting these events.
These examples, and the many others taking place, all are solid proof that without these venues providing these experiences others will step up and take the place regardless of the legality. They also prove that people will attend them in huge numbers, again, regardless of the legality. Now imagine this situation after 80% of clubs are closed and there are no restrictions on public gatherings. Until legitimate venues have opened up (something that is becoming harder and harder), the illegal raves will hold their place. This may, at first, sound exciting. A return to the hedonistic times many reminisce for, while younger generations enviously dream about. But the reality might not be as perfect as we hoped. Rather than stepping forward, we’ll be taking steps back – and for an industry that has shown that it’s as professional and viable as any other economic sector, that’s NOT good news.
If regular, large scale, unlicensed events were to begin taking place regularly – our whole industry will be demonised once again. Wild beliefs of all those enjoying dance music being drug-taking nut cases, uncaring for the wider society and selfish in their yearning to have a good night. Unnecessary friction between partiers and the police will become more apparent in our community as both try to unwit the other. Stoking further tensions on an already fractious relationship. The mainstream media will have a ball, outing raves as a plague on society and expressing sympathising with land-owners whose property is damaged. The demonisation of our community has far-reaching implications. We have created a huge economic sector, with a wealth of career opportunities and an exciting place for outside organisations to invest. Sadly, if backs are turned on us, so too will businesses, not wanting to be associated with the scene. It will likely be harder for people to obtain the licenses required to open new festivals, or clubs due to public backlash fuelled by Daily Mail stories of raves terrorising local communities.
We have collectively worked so hard to show that this industry is viable, is responsible and is beneficial to wider society and communities. But if the predicted nightclub extinction were to take place this could be the resulting impact that frankly I don’t think any of us want. But in the impact of the loss of one, comes the other – no scene will just die, it’ll just find other ways to exist, even if it means it’s pushed further underground. But we can do something, the Government can do something. If they provide the support needed to night time venues they can avoid this. Already pressure has got 40 MPs to tell the Chancellor and Prime Minister to act now. Warning them of the NTIA’s findings, and urging them to take action with sector-specific grants to avoid ‘irreversible losses’ and help it recover the wider economy when restrictions are lifted.
We too can support this, by writing to our MPs today. We can lobby our MPs to pressure the Government to include a proper support package to our loved music venues ahead of the forthcoming budget on March 3rd. You can use the NTIA “Email your MP” system to help apply the pressure needed. Together we can make sure our voices are heard, and that our MPs are aware of the scale of this issue our community faces.