This month LeftLion columnist and MP for Nottingham East Nadia Whittome talks the importance of the night-time economy...
It’s been three years since I became an MP. My memories of that moment are bittersweet: the joy of getting to represent my community, the shock of a Tory landslide, the sudden realisation that my life was about to completely change overnight.
But as soon as I recovered from this cocktail of emotions (and the flu I picked up on the campaign trail), I did what I’ve always done: went out to celebrate at The Bodega.
The dancefloor is my happy place. I’ve been in love with Nottingham nightlife ever since I was a teenager, going on my first night out to Stealth and bumping into my visibly confused older brother. In my late teens and early twenties, you could often find me on a weekend ordering sour cherry teapots at Rescue Rooms, trying to lift my feet off the sticky floor of Rock City or dancing the night away at the much-missed Maze. As an MP, I may not have the time to let my hair down quite as often - but, when I get the chance, I still enjoy a night out at The Bodega’s Pop Confessional.
The night-time economy sometimes gets a bad reputation, associated by some with drunkenness, noise and antisocial behaviour. But there’s so much more to nightlife, which brings joy and provides livelihoods to so many in our city.
Far from a frivolous nuisance, our night-time economy is a valuable part of our city’s life, and deserves support during this tough time
Before the pandemic, the Night Time Industries Association estimated the value of the UK’s night-time economy at £112 billion. Nottingham alone is home to over 200 clubs, pubs, bars and music venues, which combined employ thousands of staff. This attracts people to our city and is one of the reasons why Nottingham consistently ranks as one of the best places in Britain to be a student. This in turn brings more money to our local economy and creates countless more jobs.
But it wouldn’t do nightlife justice to talk about its value purely in economic terms. Clubs and bars are places where people can escape their daily worries, find community and discover the creativity of Nottingham’s artists and DJs. For decades, nightlife has fuelled developments in music and fashion, and shaped our culture in ways we might not even fully realise. It’s played a particularly significant role in the history and daily lives of marginalised groups such as the LGBTQ+ community, providing spaces for people to come together and be themselves.
But as the energy crisis deepens and inflation reaches historic levels, our venues are at risk. Not only are they seeing their bills soar, but as young people’s disposable incomes shrink, attracting customers is an ever-growing challenge. As a result, across the UK, fourteen nightclubs a month are closing their doors for good. The current economic downturn adds to the difficulties already faced by a sector that was still recovering after sixteen months of COVID restrictions. One in five clubs have already shut down since the start of the pandemic, and hundreds more are at risk. In Nottingham, we lost Propaganda - the city’s only dedicated LGBT+ club, which sadly didn’t survive lockdown (luckily great queer-friendly bars like The New Foresters still stand).
Clubs and bars are places where people can escape their daily worries, find community and discover the creativity of Nottingham’s artists and DJs
Ultimately, the best way to support the night-time economy is to put money in the pockets of those who fuel it. Policies that benefit ordinary people help our small businesses as well. Give a young person on the minimum wage an extra £100 and they might get a gig ticket and a round of drinks at the local bar. Give it to a rich CEO and it will likely disappear unnoticed in a savings account.
Local authorities also have a responsibility to protect independent venues. In many cases, the approach of the council can make or break an area’s nightlife. That’s why I welcome Nottingham City Council’s decision to scrap the night-time levy, previously paid by businesses for the right to sell alcohol after midnight. Far from a frivolous nuisance, our night-time economy is a valuable part of our city’s life, and deserves support during this tough time.
At the same time, we must keep working to ensure that the night is safe for everyone. It’s never the responsibility of victims to protect themselves from sexual harassment or violence. I applaud initiatives like the Safe Space Pledge, developed by the Nottingham BID and the Consent Coalition, or the national Ask for Angela scheme. I dream of a world where men are educated to respect women and we can all go out without fear. But until then, venues must make it clear that unwanted sexual behaviours won’t be tolerated, and staff are trained to respond.
Have a great night, party responsibly - and see you on the dancefloor.
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