NTIA raises concerns over the impact of social distancing on the night time economy and events sector

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The Announcement last week from the Government on Departmental Task Forces working with Industry to find solutions has been received well, but there is a big question on what the government’s expectations are in terms of public health measures, and much scepticism from the sector as to how this will be managed, both operationally and through the licensing regulators.

The sector has already experienced operators being asked to close takeaway services based on the Public Safety Licensing Objective, with reasons cited as encouraging people to not socially distance. But how far is the responsibility of the Operator going to stretch?

What if some of these businesses are unworkable under the expected conditions, There must be some consideration for Government financial support for businesses unable to comply, allowing them to survive until they are able to re-engage the market place?

Says NTIA CEO Michael Kill:
“Will the Government take a more pragmatic approach and allow businesses to generate their own guides to mitigate the risk presented to us, as is the case with current Health & Safety measures? Without clarity, no one can plan, prepare, understand the viability. Our Industry wants to open, we don’t want to open and put people at risk, and the last thing anyone wants is for us to re-engage the market for us to be closed ⅔ weeks later following another spike in transmission and deaths.”

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Across Europe many countries are considering reducing the 2m social distancing guide inline with the World Health Organisations 1m recommendation, which has been re-enforced by many academics across the country as ‘sensible’. The bigger question is how will this work in Pubs and Restaurants and are Nightclubs, Venues and Events able to even consider these measures given the very premise to their existence.

The Night-time economy and events sector is built on social engagement and while many operators have been working tirelessly to find a solution, many businesses across the sector feel this is not an option, and that with the reduction in business capacity, enforced spacing, queue management, staff and customer safety and PPE brings into question not only the viability, but whether this is something that can be managed in many spaces. Even before we account for the public perception of safety within our businesses.

When lockdown is lifted many businesses feel they will only return at 40-43% of capacity for the first three months, with 64% of businesses not being financially viable. With an estimated start up cost of over 31K for the initial period, and an estimated 55% of staff returning to their roles across the sector.

The NTIA continues to raise concerns over the impact of Covid – 19 on the Night-time economy and events sector. This has been recognised by the Department of Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) and the NTIA is now invited to join the Task Force working groups alongside other key organisations to draw on industry knowledge and experience to assess whether there are safe and workable solutions for the industry to return to business after the lockdown.

Katharine Khan, Village Underground & EartH, London
“With 13 years experience running the 700 capacity Village Underground live music & club space in Shoreditch, London, we already know how many people we need to come through our doors to cover our costs. Working on a regular basis at the much reduced capacities that would be required by social distancing will not enable us to cover our overheads, in fact it would run us into a financial hole pretty quickly. We will need to find something else to do with the venue, either instead of running socially distanced events, or alongside them, otherwise we won’t exist by 2022. Our newer venue, EartH in Dalston is already covering the costs of a massive restoration project as well as overheads so the situation is similar if not more difficult. Our best options at the moment seem to be to find something else to do with the spaces until we can reopen at ‘usual’ capacity, and to pursue live streaming. If we are successful and can protect the businesses and the leases on the venues through temporary alternative uses we may be able to run some events under the new rules alongside but they would all be likely to lose money in themselves.”

Dan Perrin Studio 338, London
“Nightclubs, festivals and music venues are taking on a huge financial burden in order to do our part in fighting COVID-19. This is our moral and civil duty. We have remained shut, followed all guidelines and understand that we need to be patient and responsible at this critical time. It cannot, however, be fair, or right, to rush our industry into reopening with restrictions and conditions which will inevitably lead to financial ruin for the vast majority.

Many of our overheads are fixed and cannot be scaled to make lower capacities viable. Not only that but the entire experience of going to enjoy music in a social, worry free environment, will be severely compromised and could cause permanent and terminal damage to live music in the U.K. – this is an issue which is unique to our industry……bringing people together is at the centre of what we do and have always done.

It seems to me that we should be sensible with the reintroduction of events. Do not rush to reopen them, but repay our support by protecting us until it is safe to reopen in a way which will bring London’s music scene bursting back into life rather than seeing all of the heritage and culture we are so famous for become a victim of the virus.

We do not expect to be making money right now, we are just about getting by and that is ok…..but to ask us to lose everything we have worked for seems grossly unfair. One thing is very clear: if clubs like Studio 338 are required to open at a vastly reduced capacity, with squares to separate dancers etc….that will mark the end of something very important to this city

With the exception of outdoor events….let’s wait a little longer, support us just a little longer, let’s not lose the soul of London for the sake of a few months. Venues like ours are the colour in many people’s lives and our reopening will be the ultimate sign of the world becoming recognisable again.

It’s important for everyone, venues and the public that it is done correctly with due consideration to what is possible, feasible and ensures people can actually enjoy themselves. That is the most important thing after all.”

Mike Grieve – SubClub. Glasgow
“Fundamentally I don’t see how social distancing can work in a nightclub setting, regardless of the size of the space. The very essence of club culture is about sharing emotion and excitement as a crowd in close physical contact with each other. That’s not to mention the practical difficulties of managing bar service, toilets, security searches etc. or the fact that most clubs need 90% + capacity to break even financially. Until we can reopen to 100% capacity I think clubs like ours will remain closed.”

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