‘Life in the city can be so hard!
But after dark new energy finds me
And I light up like a star!’
Indeed. With these words from her 1984 disco classic ‘In the Evening’, singer Sheryl Lee Ralph speaks for the joys experienced by generations of clubbers, past and present. But what of the future – do such life-enhancing pleasures face becoming, if not a thing of the past, at least severely restricted? Venues such as the Astoria have closed, and are continuing to do so. Potential sites for clubs are being sold for housing. Officialdom seems keen on emphasising the negative aspects of the night-time economy, with the overzealous exercising of licensing rights or establishing of curfews on opening hours. So this debate, titled ‘What Kind of Night Time Economy Champion Do We Want For London?’, organised by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) and held at the HQ of leading London creative agency Mother, was a timely wake-up call for all those who recognize – and wish to promote – not only the economic benefits of London’s energetic night-life but also the music and fashion sectors which it helps to inspire and develop.
Ably chaired by Alan Miller of the NTIA, speakers represented a range of backgrounds. They included Lutz Leichsenring (from the Berlin Club Commission), and Mirik Milan (the Night Time Mayor of Amsterdam), who gave insights into the problems they had faced and the successes they had achieved in overcoming them. They gave positive pictures of how the night-time economy was encouraged within their respective cities, emphasising how tourism, nightlife, fashion and IT development interacted positively, whilst Laia Gasch (from the Mayor of London’s Culture Team) gave the welcome news that a Night Time Economy Champion for London is to be appointed (top marks to Munira Mirza, head of the Mayor of London’s Culture Team, for this). Meanwhile journalist Jonathan Prynn (from the Evening Standard) acted as devil’s advocate, raising such issues as the disruption sometimes caused by clubs and clubbers for local residents.
When the debate was thrown open for comments from the floor, a variety of views were expressed, including suggestions for venues to get involved with their local communities – for instance, by offering spaces for daytime events – and so building-up good relations with residents and thus defusing possible conflicts, and the night-time economy having dialogue with politicians, emphasising to them its positive aspects (this, in turn, would help with policing, which was often perceived as taking its cue from the concerns of politicians). Alan gave, as an example of such activity, the ‘We Love Hackney’ campaign, which was backed by NTIA and which helped to challenge the assumptions of Hackney Council Licensing, prompting the Council to a wide debate about the value of the night-time economy (NTIA has been similarly involved in helping to safeguard Peckham’s nightlife, too).
A debate such as this could not hope to find answers to all the issues facing the future promotion of London night-life. And there is an ingrained tradition of Puritanism (possibly stemming from British 16th century religious changes) embedded within the country’s psyche which needs to be contended-with – the fear that someone, somewhere, is enjoying themselves. But it encouraged a positive sharing of views to be fed back into the conversation about what and how to create the best role for a night time economy champion for London. Without being over-optimistic, London’s night-life seems set for good times. Let’s all drink to that!