London Nightlife Is Needed Now More Than Ever

When Amy Lamé, London’s Night Czar, was appointed to her role in 2016, she was given a mandate to promote, protect and preserve the fabric of the UK capital’s nightlife sector. In 2018, in the midst of a number of clubs shutting down, I first reflected on the dismal job Lamé was proved to be doing. In one fell swoop that year, the likes of The Alibi and Visions Video Bar—vaunted venues in Dalston, East London—permanently shut their doors, meanwhile a motion was passed by Hackney Council in favour of live music venues being restricted to an 11pm weekday and 12am weekend curfew, leaving the future of similar venues in serious doubt.

Lamé was criticised for her lack of activity in doing her job and, fast forward two years, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, her detractors are getting louder. The one glimmer of hope in Lamé’s catalogue since her appointment was the preservation of the historic Royal Vauxhall Tavern in 2018, but she has very little to be proud of in the grand scheme of things. Lamé now faces regular calls to quit her post, as more spectators have gotten hip to how ineffective she has been, particularly in response to the enforced lockdown the country has faced. More than 1,000 people have signed a petition calling for her to be removed from her post, and the reasoning is very telling. The petition claims Lamé’s response to COVID-19 has been “extremely disappointing,” ranging from her silence on venues receiving financial support over lockdown to failing to understand the “far-reaching implications of the lockdown in the wider music/arts scene surrounding nightlife.”

The uncertainty created by lockdown for virtually all of the British economy is no doubt a strain on the workload, but Lamé’s lack of public engagement with the nightlife sector has not boded well for a number of people now calling for her to lose her job. The type of vigour that enabled legendary London venue, Fabric, to open again in 2017, but was lacking when other venues such as Visions and Alibi faded away. In a new landscape ravaged by COVID-19, venues are in grave danger. Just last month, Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), claimed that up to 70% of clubs could close by the end of September, especially those that do not have outdoor spaces. This amounts to 754,000 jobs being at risk, an increasingly grim portrait of things to come.

So, where does this leave nightlife then? Well, despite Lamé’s ineptitude, the fight continues for venues to stay afloat. But they face a critical juncture in the midst of a UK economy going gung-ho to get back on its feet, a country attempting to restart after lockdown. As clubs and venues find ways to accommodate their clientele and to stay safe, the challenge of adjusting to the new normal is steep. Many would-be ravers are still knee-deep in quarantine, anxious to step into a club scenario where close contact and confined spaces are guaranteed. Because of this, venues face a hard task attracting revellers from the outset, the moral dilemma of keeping their venues alive and ensuring public health proving a strong one.

Finding new and creative ways to accommodate the public is crucial to the survival of many venues. Undoubtedly, cuts need to be made to capacity limits, to curtail the risks of close contact, as well as more rigorous admission rules. It is almost certain that venues will struggle financially as a result, but their survival means more than simply financial gain. London’s nightlife scene remains its heartbeat; a key source of financial and social revenue for the entire country and the loss of a large chunk of this sector is almost unimaginable.

There is hope yet, though. In July, the government announced a £1.57 billion support package that, according to Prime Minster Boris Johnson, “will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down.” Whether this keeps venues open remains to be seen, but it is reassuring, in the midst of Amy Lamé’s lack of action, that measures are being taken to preserve nightlife, that the government recognises its cultural and economic worth.

The future remains uncertain, and while there will almost certainly be casualties and consumers and revellers will be wary of attending, the nightlife sector is sorely needed to help the UK get back on its economic feet after a lockdown that set it back by years. Generations of club-goers depend on it, as well as the clubs themselves. The combined efforts of Lamé, the government and the sheer will of these venues to survive, is paramount.

Posted on September 03, 2020