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COVID-19: Scenes like this will be a thing of the past unless venues get more help, say club owners

Written by on 18 February 2021

Nightclubs, bars and music venues face “extinction” unless urgent government action is taken, a cross-party group of MPs has warned.

Some businesses have been unable to open at all since March of last year and others have already gone under.

This time last year, Jeremy Joseph’s club Heaven in London was hosting the Pussycat Dolls to a packed crowd – now the doors are firmly shut.

“To be honest, you talk about financial support from the government, it’s not really worth talking about,” said Jeremy, who also owns the bars G-A-Y.

“We are not getting the monies that we need, for example rent for our four venues is £409,000 a quarter so the government giving £3,000 a month ain’t gonna touch the sides.”

The report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Night Time Economy has found that 85% of people working in the industry are thinking of leaving.

And in total, nightclubs, bars, pubs and music venues, plus their suppliers, have made more than a third of their workforce redundant.

In clubs alone the figure is 51%.

Jeff Smith MP, who is chair of the group, said the industry is “on its knees” and warned that if businesses go under, city and town centres will become ghost towns.

“We need some more support. Some grants, a business rates relief extension and furlough extension and the things that are going to keep these venues going until they are able to open fully.

“But we also need a clear roadmap for when they are going to be able to open fully.”

In Bethnal Green in east London, the Oval Space has been closed most of the past year.

The art and music venue would usually host a club night twice a week plus other events.

But with COVID thriving in crowded spaces, opening up hasn’t been an option.

It’s left co-owner Dean James wondering how his industry can survive.

“We need to be cautious but not super-cautious because if you are super cautious you will kill us,” he said.

“We’ve been shut for a year now. If we are not open sometime in the summer, if we have to go into the autumn, a lot of businesses I think will fail.”

The Oval Space has been empty for most of the last year Image: The Oval Space has been empty for most of the last year

On Monday, the prime minister suggested rapid testing may provide a solution to get nightclubs and theatres open again.

But, said Dean, while he’s willing to try anything, he can’t see how the idea could work.

“How does it work when you have that many people turning up at an allocated time to see a band?

“Do you keep them in the streets getting wet? Do you test them and tell them to come back in 20 minutes?”

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, says those in the industry have “shown great resilience in the face of adversity”.

But, he added, that only gets you so far.

“We need more assistance and a detailed plan for reopening now,” he said.

“Otherwise, much of what defines a night out in the UK will be lost forever.”

A government spokesperson said the prime minister would be setting out a plan on the reopening of the economy on Monday “in a way that is cautious but also irreversible”.

“Nightclubs can continue to access our comprehensive package of business support worth over £280 billion, which includes a one-off grant of up to £9,000, monthly grants of up to £3,000, various loan schemes, a business rates holiday, as well as the extended furlough scheme.”

But for many it’s not enough… and with income from the UK’s nightlife estimated to contribute £66 billion to the UK economy, there’s a lot at stake.

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