‘We’re on the cusp of losing the industry’: UK club owners on the future of clubbing

Many businesses won’t make it to June 21st

On a typical Friday night, Piano Works is rammed with London-based students, birthday nights out and anyone looking for a good sing-along. Fans of the venue queue for hours around the streets of Farringdon to get in and pay a tenner on the door for a night of non-stop, on-request live music. Sadly, since March last year, their doors have been shut.

This has been the experience for many clubs and venues across the country, and the situation is desperate. Although there have been schemes implemented by the government to support other parts of the hospitality industry, such as Eat Out to Help Out, rule of six and takeaway alcohol services, the nightlife industry has been severely overlooked.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), 80 per cent of nightclub businesses won’t survive past the end of this month.

Jacob Robertson, who is the Managing Director at I Love Student Nights and runs major dance events in venues like XOYO, Loop and Tiger Tiger, feels hugely let down by the government’s neglect of the nightlife industry and devastated by the effects this has had on so many operators. He told us: “The government has offered help to many businesses but, for nightclubs, this support hasn’t even come close to what we need”.

Despite the recent news that clubs could finally be allowed to reopen in June, many business owners remain concerned the industry won’t last until then. Back in October, the government allowed clubs to open provided they met the health and safety precautions required. Many owners paid thousands to meet these requirements but were then forced to shut again with little form of compensation.

A spokesperson for The Piano Works Group told us they spent over £30,000 on health and safety consultants, risk assessments, relevant staff training, and equipment, but were then forced to shut just 48 hours later. He explained: “We invested in temperature reading devices, socially distanced floor stickers, sensor operated hand sanitiser units, an order and pay technology solution, and Perspex screens on stage and between guests’ tables. All of those costs, with stock purchases and man-hours required to get the venue clean and ready for reopening, was a huge investment”.

Zafer Saygilier, who manages Newcastle’s popular VK-filled student night out at Soho Rooms, echoes this. Saygilier said, like Piano Works, he invested large amounts of money in order to meet the safety regulations and was instantly met with curfews, tier systems and eventual closure. He added: “Sadly only the most innovative and strongest companies will survive”. 

Not only are many local businesses on the edge of going under, but the pandemic also poses a very real threat to the industry as a whole.

The NTIA is an organisation that promotes the importance of the nightlife industry and supports many of the business owners and employees within the sector. The NTIA has continued to push the government to better support the industry during the pandemic and reinforce how fragile the situation has become.

The company’s CEO, Michael Kill, said we are on the “cusp of losing the industry” and argued the government’s neglect of nightlife businesses has been completely intentional. He explained the restrictive measures “levied against the sector” has made it clear these businesses are being “systemically eradicated”. He added: “As they continue to be excluded from the narrative of press announcements and planning, and through misconceptions and misguided understanding – from age-old stereotyping – the sector has been given little or no opportunity to re-engage even with a very clear ability to open spaces safely.”

Jeff Smith, an MP and former dance and house DJ, added that the destruction of the industry is more than just a tragic loss but would have a devasting impact on the economy, leaving city centres resembling “ghost towns”.

Smith also noted this industry sits at the heart of the UK’s culture and identity. Some of the biggest names in global music history have been born directly from clubs and events across the country – these creative spaces are breeding grounds for nurturing talent and bringing communities together. Without the government’s help, Smith believes we will see “untold damage to the social fabric of this country.”

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