The recent threats against Night And Day in Manchester led me to dig up most of this text from a Masters I completed in Public Relations and Event management.
My dissertation was about the difficulties in delivering small independent festivals and events, and focused on how many of those festivals exist in small indy venues that are disappearing at an alarming rate.
At no point could any of us have considered the extraordinary impact 18 months of closure could have on venues, artists and the wider economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Against this backdrop, the threat against Night And Day is even greater. That we have a nighttime economy that has survived is a minor miracle. That many are now back to noise abatement, poor planning and frivolous complaints is as alarming as it is depressing.
Manchester City Council has a lot of work to do to make this go away, and it must.
In all the conversations I had with people the increasing costs of managing a live venue, and the loss of many venues around these isles, has had a huge impact on life and culture in cities. Gentrification and changes in city living have resulted in the UK losing hundreds of venues that could and did host emerging acts and supported independent festivals.
It is a tale that has many casualties, casualties that can never and will never be brought back. The recent moves toward increasing city living have led to more clashes but as a writer, as a lover of music, and as consumers of live gigs we must do everything we can to protect live music venues from vexatious, nonsense claims about nuisance and noise.
The vast majority of them are nonsense.
Between 2007 and 2015 London lost 35% of its venues, the Music Venue Trust report of 2017 states that the losses left just 88 venues with a capacity to deliver live events and support independent festivals, that is a staggering statement in a city of almost nine million people.
Many independent festivals begin life as an attempt to regenerate communities or draw people to places they would otherwise avoid at odd times of the year. Those same festivals and venues, as well as the cultural and artistic value they bring, are now facing new threats from ever-growing city centre living.
It is important to remember just how many independent cultural happenings begin life in derelict neighbourhoods where local authorities are keen to see them take root, hopeful this will affect a wider regeneration.
What happens when they do?
This challenge has been recognised as such a significant threat to the cultural fabric of London that the then Mayor appointed a Night Czar, Amy Lame, to work with authorities, communities and venues to stem the tide, while the usefulness of that role has come into play, especially in a post COVID world, the idea is a good one.
The value of the nighttime economy in London cannot be understated, according to data from 2017 on London.gov, nighttime activity, events, restaurants and clubbing deliver an astronomical 26 billion to London’s GDP. 26 billion in London alone.
Many independent festivals and events use existing venues to keep costs to a minimum, the search for unique spaces are common.
Independents are reliant on the availability of suitable buildings at the right price. In the main, threadbare management teams, supported mainly by volunteers, deliver these festivals, their independent ethos is hardwired into their DNA.
This independence leaves organisations with the responsibility to raise enough money to deliver an attractive product, safely and successfully in a world with ever increasing risk management and insurance overheads. There can be public sector support in the form of grants or funding from charitable foundations, however, this is constantly in flux and unreliable for most.
Festivals require upfront funding; securing artists and production requires finance in advance of ticket sales and strict financial control. In times of austerity and political uncertainty, arts spending suffers disproportionately, impacting those reliant on this as a means of financial support.
In spite of austerity, independent cultural businesses have grown across the UK, many find themselves on the fringes of society, reusing once abandoned buildings or neglected neighbourhoods to create opportunities. Yet, many cities use these evolving businesses to generate growth, increase tourism and create place, as is evident in Liverpool and Belfast.
In Belfast, creative industries centre around the Cathedral Quarter, an area that was all but abandoned just ten years ago. Plans are afoot to demolish huge swathes of buildings in the area and replace them with offices and apartments, what happens to the remaining artists and venues?
Likewise, cultural centres in Liverpool focus on the North Shore and Baltic Triangle, areas that recently suffered high rental vacancy and abandonment. The Baltic Triangle is dealing with numerous external threats from developers and there are concerns about developments planned for the North Shore, impacting creatives in the area in ways we haven’t quite seen. Certainly, the new Everton Stadium in the heart of the North shore area will forever change it.
Does anyone imagine that the Invisible Wind Factory can survive?
I’m still waiting on Cream returning to the Basement in Wolstenholm Square, as was highlighted in the original plans.
As communities change, so too do festivals requirements in terms space and playing to new audiences. New developments bring new challenges, and many of our favourite independent festivals developed in the last 30 years were created to respond to political or societal issues, poverty, and regeneration. They have been knocked from pillar to post and many still struggle to find a home.
You only need to look at the ever moving Sound City to see how difficult it is.
The Millennium saw UK regions commit substantial sums to regeneration, with a total budget of £2 billion some projects were a success while others floundered. We think of the Millennium bridge and Dome; alongside projects like the Odyssey in Belfast, The Lowry in Manchester, the now-closed National Wildflower Centre and the doomed Millennium Discovery Park in Liverpool.
Alongside these projects many cities led on their own regeneration schemes, Belfast had the Laganside Corporation, funded to regenerate the area around the river and find success. Liverpool attracted significant EU funding and changed the face of the Mersey; The Capital of Culture attracted 9.7 million visitors, and generated an income of £750 million.
The case for place building is clear, we cannot, as a society, spend hours in a car every day commuting, COVID showed us that. COVID also showed us that outdated models of working are coming to an end, space, and place, in cities and beyond need to change to meet our new patterns and we need to find ways of making those things work together.
Many new developments ‘build in’ public space, Customs House Square in Belfast comes with internet points, power and lighting, conveniently hidden in pop up units. Liverpool’s Waterfront is similarly designed to be a useable space and is frequently utilised. Cities accept that planning should reflect demand, pedestrianisation is growing to meet healthier cities targets and create new spaces. Creating these spaces and experiences helps lift neighbourhoods, attract tourism and inward investment.
Population ecology explores changes in the organisation and management of communities and organisations, the theory suggests that failure can be traced to an inability to manage change.
Gentrification can result in venues being lost to make way for costlier developments, minus any public space. This increases rates and rents and pushes creatives further out, away from noise abatement orders and development. There have been numerous losses of iconic independent venues in the UK, its the very reason the Music Venue Trust was established.
MVT have called for three steps to be taken to secure the future; reform of funding to invest in infrastructure; establishing a cultural and heritage tax relief scheme to reward private investment; and cut red tape to ensure licencing, management and rates support growth.
While venues like 24 Kitchen Street in Liverpool are under threat from developments, the Kazimier and The Lantern are lost forever. Womanby Street in Cardiff is under threat; a nearby hotel, built in an area rich with culture, is seeking a noise abatement order against venues.
A noise abatement order forced the closure of The Blind Tiger in Brighton, a venue for 130 years closed because the people who bought the flat upstairs didn’t like the noise. Electric Circus and Picture House in Edinburgh have both been boarded up to make way for redevelopment.
The numbers lost are alarming, we must do all we can to save whats left.
Before there’s nothing left to save.