A London-Irish business woman has said that the ever-increasing charges forced upon music venues will cause untold damage to London’s economy.
As part of our campaign to save London’s nightlife, in conjunction with Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Culture and the Night Time Economy consultation, we spoke to the owner of one of London’s busiest clubs to see what she thinks are the biggest problems faced by landlords and publicans today.
Kate Fuller, who runs the Electric Ballroom in Camden, says that sometimes she feels as if businesses have their hands tied when rates and policies are decided in boardrooms and council offices rather than at ground level.
“It is crazy. Our business rates are due to near enough double in cost by 2019. It’s great that we have Amy Lamé (the Mayor’s appointed Night Time ‘tsar’) on board to help give us a voice, but sometimes it feels as if family-owned businesses are given little support,” she says.
“Music venues pump billions of pounds into London’s economy each year so we need some help and protection.”
Kate’s worries are not isolated, and in response to the alarming rate of closure of the capital’s clubs and bars it was quoted that outside of regular London spending in 2015 concerts and festivals attracted 3.2m tourists to London who spent £1bn in the process.
The Electric Ballroom was originally owned by Kate’s father Bill, who took it over almost 80 years ago and made it one of London’s biggest dancehalls for Irish and country music acts as the Buffalo Club.
Kate’s involvement on a business level with the venue started in her early twenties, and she quickly learned the ropes of all of the external issues that running a music venue entails.
The Electric Ballroom, a popular venue for gigs as well as its own club nights on Fridays and Saturdays, was under threat of compulsory purchase when Trasport for London announced that it wanted to extend the nearby Camden Town tube station.
“Even though we won the right to stay that time, talk of developments are ongoing. Now they are speaking about extending it to the back, rather than the side, of our building so we have been in meetings with the council and public consultations again.
“Of course we recognise the need to improve the transport links to benefit the area, but hopefully not to ours, and others’, detriment as you see venues closing down all of the time.”
One of the biggest points of contention for those running pubs and clubs was the red tape needed to be got through before doing any works that would change the structure of a pub.
It was initially brought in to protect sites so their usage could not be changed overnight by developers looking to weed out pub culture, but it soon meant that those looking to make improvement works to attract more customers were thwarted.
“It does help that we are a freehold and own the building because people I know who are renting are saying that the costs are just going up and up and up and up.
“But at the moment for example we are extending our lounge area around our main dancefloor so there is a bigger balcony for people to watch gigs from, and also more room for people to sit and chat on club nights.
“Because it is internal though the planning permission is not too difficult, and it isn’t really changing the use of the place as a music venue.”