Nightclubs 'forgotten' during pandemic fear they won't survive the year

UK nightclubs are facing an existential threat and feel they’ve been ‘left out in the cold’ by the Government, with no sign of when they might be able to reopen.

Pubs and bars were given the green light to reopen on July 4, providing they followed coronavirus safety rules, but clubs have remained closed since Boris Johnson declared a nationwide lockdown in late March.

With the Treasury’s furlough scheme set to expire by November, late-night venues say they’ve been ‘forgotten about’ and fear many won’t survive before the end of 2020.

Jimmy Elias, 45, owns six clubs across the country and estimates they’ve lost out on £1.8 million turnover since March. He told ‘When can we open? That’s the million dollar question and the answer is, I don’t know.

‘I would love to come up with some kind of scheme to make it safe, like masks on the dance floor. I would take anything now.

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‘The worst think about it is if you ever go to a nightclub they are well controlled, we are experts in controlling the environment.’

He said a lack of these regulated environments could be fuelling uncontrolled student parties as well as illegal raves across the country.

One of Mr Elias’s nightclubs is Trilogy, in Blackpool, which was shut in June last year for a half-a-million pound refurbishment that was finished two weeks before lockdown.

He will be able to open one floor in a limited capacity, and while many people are craving the nightclub experience, he said ‘it’s not going to be what people are used to’.

Mr Elias has also managed to re-open Botanic Bar and Garden in High Wycombe, but its capacity is down from 900 to just 85 people.

He managed to make it work, covering costs but by no means turning over a profit, but ever since the 10pm curfew on pubs and bars came in effect on Friday, revenue plummeted by 50% over the weekend.

The entrepreneur said new laws which could see pub landlords fined £1,000 if they allow singing, dancing or music above 85 decibels are overkill and ‘infringing on civil liberties’.

The remainder of Mr Elias clubs have to stay shut for now, and while he’s been able to adapt to the pandemic in some ways, he says many businesses up and down the country might not survive the year.

He added: ‘That’s really sad. I think people are going to be forced to leave the industry and give up what they love and have been working on over many years.

When asked what he thought about the Government’s strategy to save the industry, he said: ‘There’s been no approach, it’s like they’ve almost forgotten about us and now it’s too late to support us.’

Andrew Smith, owner of CRISIS, the UK’s largest student night at Rock City, Nottingham, says the outlook for the industry looks ‘pretty bleak’.

He told ‘There’s been a lot done for restaurants and pubs and clubs have just been left out in the cold.

‘If you’ve got high rent payments or if you haven’t negotiated a deal with your landlords those businesses will just fall apart, particularly after furlough expires.

‘This isn’t just venues themselves needing help, but also all the supporting businesses like artists, promoters and even ticket agencies that are really struggling.’

After the end of October the Government will roll out a replacement scheme which will see the Treasury topping up the salaries of workers on reduced hours – but this is little use to clubs who can’t reopen at all.

While a businesses can apply for a ‘Bounce Back Loan’, many owners are cautious about piling up lots of debt.

Mr Smith pointed to other countries that have allowed clubs to reopen, depending on social distancing, PPE, reduced capacity and contact tracing systems to minimise risk.

He added: ‘South Korea was the first one to do it, they opened up their clubs, then they had a few issues, they shut them down again – I could live with that.’

Alice Woods, owner of male strip show Dreamboys, which works with 13 nightclubs across the country, said thousands of businesses have effectively been ‘written off’.

She said: If the Government does not implement immediate action to support nightclubs, we will be faced with catastrophic financial collapse, empty properties, soulless town centres and the evaporation of British nightlife culture.

‘Rishi Sunak has effectively written off thousands of businesses with the announcement of the new job support scheme by allowing only those businesses that are already open to access support. Nightclubs have been dismissed as “unviable” despite the fact the night-time sector employs tens of thousands of mostly young people across the UK with solid and proven business models.

‘Similar to cabaret clubs that are already allowed to open under a restaurant license, it is viable and safe to open nightclubs on this basis.

‘Nightclubs are multi-use spaces and with the correct designation of allocated booths or table areas guests can enjoy the Great British pastime of clubbing in a modified and Covid-secure way.

‘The size of most nightclubs and the ability to space customers appropriately, along with correct management of customers whilst entering and exiting, thermal monitoring, data collection on arrival, adequate ventilation and contactless payments mean we can open safety. These are already systems that are in place and nightclubs are adept at managing.

‘As it stands, the hardship, uncertainty and anxiety increases everyday with no explanation of how the night-time economy is meant to survive.’

It comes after skills minister Gillian Keegan said club workers might have have to reskill or ‘take a different route in life’ due to the impact of coronavirus.

She told Sky News: ‘It’s easy to see that nightclubs – which I’m sure we all enjoy going to – it’s difficult to see how you can have a nightclub operating with coronavirus. In any sort of enjoyable way.’

‘It is hard to see how nightclubs will open until we have some kind of long-term way to deal with coronavirus. That is for sure true.

‘Today we are introducing a new focus on adults which is just being able to offer people the chance to reskill, upskill, take different routes in life because they may need to.’

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