Nightlife venues are hubs of community. Let’s keep them open—and accessible.

Posted on 02.11.2016

Nightlife venues are hubs of community. Let’s keep them open—and accessible.

Photo by Ewan Munro, cropped from original and released under CC BY-SA 2.0.

It’s no secret that the UK’s nightlife is under threat. Rising property prices, licensing issues and economic stress have been driving venues out of business for years, but following the widely publicised closure of the iconic nightclub Fabric, a spotlight has been thrown on the issue, prompting a march and a campaign to save the venue.

Of course, the loss of nightlife venues doesn’t begin or end with Fabric. Smaller venues have been quietly or not so quietly going under for years. The eviction of Dalston music venue & community hub Passing Clouds this September prompted its own protest march. And London’s LGBT community has long been raising the alarm about the calamitous loss of venues across the city, from the Joiner’s Arms and the George & Dragon in Shoreditch, the Black Cap in Camden,  Madame Jojo’s, Candy Bar and Green Carnation in Soho, and most recently the Queen’s Head in Chelsea.

Nightclubs, bars and music venues have long been spaces for marginalised groups to meet, create art, and build community; spaces where identities are made and remade.

Nightclubs and music venues are often framed as frivolous, inessential spaces, simply a site for leisure pursuits, at best an economic boon. And while nightlife is a very important sector of the economy (contributing 66bn a year in the UK according to the Night Time Industries Association [NTIA]), the role it plays for communities is often overlooked. From  18th Century Molly Houses, to the Jazz clubs and ballrooms of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, from the 80’s vogue balls depicted in Paris is Burning, to the UK’s Deaf Rave scene: nightclubs, bars and music venues have long been spaces for marginalised groups to meet, create art, and build community; spaces where identities are made and remade. This is why the LGBT community reacted so strongly to the attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando – these spaces aren’t simply places to go and have a good time, but for many the only place they can be openly themselves.

As well as providing sanctuary, nightclubs have often been melting pots as well. Dance music historian Tim Lawrence describes how New York’s early disco scene attracted a mixed crowd: “The nascent dance ritual enabled gay men, ethnic groups, and women to experiment with a new way of being that revolved around communal hedonism.” [1] However, they are of course also sites of exclusion – the scene Lawrence describes became increasingly racially segregated as the decade progressed, and eventually produced the notoriously exclusive Studio 54.

There is increasing demand for accessible night time venues – not only from disabled customers, but from event organisers who no longer see hosting inaccessible events as an acceptable option.

Exclusive door policies are nothing new in clubland, but another form of exclusion that’s often overlooked in is the inaccessibility of many nightlife venues. This excludes disabled people not only from clubbing as an activity, but from the community, connection and creativity that these spaces engender and provide. And small, niche community venues are more likely to be in unusual, tucked-away places, up or down stairs, all presenting their own access challenges.

Recently, the lack of access in nightclubs was brought to the fore by the experiences of a London clubber who was turned away from a venue as she was perceived as a safety hazard, prompting a long-needed conversation about club accessibility. And while there are some accessible clubs, there aren’t nearly enough. What this incident highlights is that there is increasing demand for accessible night time venues – not only from disabled customers, but from event organisers who no longer see hosting inaccessible events as an acceptable option. There is a clear business case for venues to invest in access.

Providing good quality access information is something any venue with a web presence can do for free.

Improving access doesn’t have to be expensive. Our recent State of Access Report found that 1/3 of venue and festival websites, and 2/3 of independent venue websites, provided no information about accessibility. Providing good quality access information is something any venue with a web presence can do for free, using our Access Starts Online guide, enabling customers to know in advance what to expect from the venue. Access Starts Online accreditation can also be a good first step to achieving Bronze status on our our Charter of Best Practice, which recognises high standards of access in venues accross the country.

And it’s not all bad news for the venues. Passing Clouds and the Black Cap have been granted asset of community value status, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern has been given a grade II listing, and Madame Jojo’s is set to reopen.  And on a larger scale, the NTIA have launched a campaign to Save Nightlife, and mayor of London Sadiq Khan is appointing a night time commission to safeguard the future of the capital’s nightlife.

But in order to secure a thriving, and accessible, future for the community and cultural asset that is nightlife in this country, we need to keep campaigning. Let’s keep our venues open, and make sure they’re open and accessible to all.

 [1] Lawrence, Tim. (2003). Love Saves the Day. Duke University Press. p. 37.