This is a Watershed Moment for Nightlife in the UK

by Kieran Mallon, Jun 13, 2018

The NTIA is an organisation that fights every single day for your right to party - and change is coming

"The thing about music is, whether you believe in souls or not, it touches people's hearts in a way that nothing else does."

Alan Miller, chairman of the Night Time Industries Association, introduces the final keynote speech of the day at Dinerama, Shoreditch. It is an open conversation about the future of British nightlife, featuring Harvey Goldsmith CBE, Ras Kwame, Norman Jay MBE, and Carl Loben.

The day so far has been dominated by a prevailingly positive rhetoric: that change is happening, but that it must continue to happen. There is a feel in the room that the UK is on the verge of something extremely significant.

Last week, Sacha Lord, the man behind Warehouse Project and Parklife, became Manchester's first Night Czar, joining a nighttime commission which includes representatives from London, Paris, Aberdeen, Zurich, and Amsterdam. For a long time, dating back to the 80s and the acid house movement, there has been a tremendous disconnect between nightlife and the powers that be. Now, finally, it seems that these two bodies are being reconciled, even if progress is slow.

The NTIA, who organised this event, is a new enterprise that fights for the night time economy - the fifth biggest industry in the UK and one that employs at least 8% of the country's workforce.

You might not have heard of them but, in the few years that they've been operating, the NTIA have already been instrumental in getting the Agent of Change Principle past MPs and into the House of Commons. This new legislation states that property developers building residences near to pre-existing music venues must factor this into their designs, and that noise from nearby venues should be expected and planned for.

Previously, developers were able to build a block of flats next to a music venue, no matter how historic, and then demand that the music venue address the problem of noise, a policy which led to 35% of music venues closing across the UK over the last decade.

Brighton's Blind Tiger Club, closed in 2014 due to a noise complaint

 

The NTIA were also highly influential in scrapping London's infamous Form 696, an implicitly racist risk assessment form that exclusively targeted grime and garage events, requiring organisers to fill out the names, addresses, and phone numbers of each of the artists performing.

Earlier in the day, we heard from Professor Fiona Measham, director of The Loop charity, an organisation which provides front-of-house drug testing at music festivals as a means of harm reduction. The results are astonishing. Operating in an honest, realistic, and non-judgemental fashion, The Loop is able to give young people a clearer idea of what drugs they are buying, how strong they are, and how to take them safely.

The tragic deaths at Portsmouth's Mutiny Festival a fortnight ago came up in conversation on numerous occasions. Mutiny did not offer any front-of-house testing at their event. By contrast, Tom Paine, director of Team Love (Love Saves The Day, Love International), spoke of his decision to not only provide drug testing onsite but also in the days leading up to the Bristol festival on the same weekend. During this phase of testing, The Loop's chemist identified a super strength batch of pills which contained 330mg of MDMA - almost four times the average adult dose. 

With the help of social media channels, this information was able to reach more than 1,000,000 people over the course of the festival. An achievement that undoubtedly prevented dangerous situations from unfolding. This lead to one of the key points of the day: Young people are going to take drugs.

For a long time, events organisers, venues, the police, and licensing committees have hidden behind a policy of 'zero tolerance'. This does not work. Not only have human beings been taking drugs since the dawn of time, but the UK currently has the highest rate of MDMA-related drug deaths in Europe, the highest rate that this country has ever had. So, clearly, a zero tolerance policy isn't stopping anyone. 

The focus, it was agreed, should be placed on harm reduction - strategies put in place to reduce the potential risk to drug-users. Strategies like drug testing, spreading awareness, and approaching the problem honestly, rather than with scare tactics.

An unpleasant drug named Pentalone was also discovered at both LSTD and Parklife

 

This 'grown-up conversation' as Tom Paine described it, needs to extend to all aspects of the nightlife industry. Stemming from the disconnect that has plagued the sector for decades, the relationship between venues, licensing committees, and the police, has generally been extremely poor.

In Glasgow, for example, iconic venue The Arches operated at a 'platinum standard' of due diligence, recording every incident, liaising with police whenever necessary and generally providing an extremely high standard of cooperation. Then, in 2015, this very record-keeping was used against them in a hearing that resulted in the venue losing its late license; The Arches closed shortly after. The effect of this, predictably, was that venues became reticent to operate at the level of due diligence that The Arches had been, knowing that it would only be used to their detriment. 

The NTIA proposes that a two-way dialogue is opened. For decades, information and policy in the nightlife industry has been dispensed unilaterally, with the police and licensing committees forcing the burden onto venues from the top down, when, realistically, all parties want the same thing: safety for patrons and a successful UK nightlife industry.

The first steps have most certainly been made - front-of-house testing, the Agent of Change, Form 696, etcetera, but none of these would have been possible without collaboration between the people that organise events and the people that legislate them. It's time to stop placing blame and start solving problems. After all, together we are stronger.

Out Now.
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