We need to talk about nightlife   

by 

The creative sector represents a huge employer in the UK. It contributes billions to the economy, employs thousands, and is a key export of our economy. Yet the sector faces enormous challenges in UK cities. The cost of rent, poor connectivity, and licencing problems resulting from city centre residential developments are just some of the issues cultural operators face.

There is an increasing need for local government to strike the balance of not just creating places that people want to live and work in, but also fostering an environment where the creative arts can grow and prosper – generating revenue for the local economy and maintaining a vibrant creative scene that attracts people to visit and live there. Manchester’s music scene was what first attracted me (and countless others) to Manchester and is what inspired me to start a record label to release local music. 

“the process of gentrification rarely stops at having made a place ‘sticky’ for one group at the expense of another”

Rightly, in the context of cultural gentrification, there is much discussion about the outcomes and the experience of existing populations being ‘turfed out’ – literally or figuratively evicted from areas where they have ties – often at great economic and social cost. But less is said about the process – what happens before the turfing out and how we harness the benefits of an incoming community: enabling a diverse cultural offer for all residents. It is worth noting that the process of gentrification rarely stops at having made a place ‘sticky’ for one group at the expense of another – often the process of ‘turfing out’ continues as rents continue to rise and become prohibitively high for the very creatives who kicked it off. In this sense, the process represents a cultural loss for both populations and, ultimately, for cities. 

“localities must not lose focus on the exciting things happening at a small scale, grass roots level”

The response to this loss is not just about hosting big ticket events such as Manchester’s biennial International Festival. Crucially, localities must not lose focus on the exciting things happening at a small scale, grass roots level. As such, local government has a key role to play as a steward of the local economy here with the opportunity to use policy to actively encourage creative place development. 

When Huw Thomas moved to Cardiff after finishing his degree in music, he didn’t know anyone. Joining a choir acted as a social network and taught him the social value of the arts in a place. Thomas knew about the cycle of creatives moving to run-down area for their cheap rents, only to become priced out by developers, who capture the value as the area becomes a nicer place to live and work. 

“Thomas entered politics to try and give music the true value within place that he felt it deserved”

Thomas entered politics to try and give music the true value within place that he felt it deserved. To ensure music, or the arts more generally, is seen as infrastructure which creates vibrant, exciting communities and builds an international profile. As leader of Cardiff Council, he has declared Cardiff a music city. He is developing a strategy to put music at the heart of the city’s future with the aim to provide a healthy ecosystem (using this term as opposed to industry acknowledging the fact that music has a social as well as an economic value).

Other localities are rising to the challenge. Greater Manchester has undertaken a Music Reviewwith a series of recommendations, such as creating a talent pipeline fund to support people from all backgrounds to seek careers in the industry, and ensuring compliance of the Agent of Change legislation which forces developers to pay for the cost of soundproofing existing nearby music venuesThe city has also appointed a Night Time Economy Advisor, who chairs a board of key stakeholders (operators, councillors, NHS etc) who have been consulted to develop a blueprint which aims to address key issues for the sector (safety, connectivity as well as using nightlife to regenerate areas of the conurbation).  

“Who will be the next generation of creative entrepreneurs, and how can cities support these individuals to develop?”

In Liverpool, a Community Interest Company, Baltic Creative, used ownership of buildings as a way to break the cycle of creatives leaving areas as they become gentrified. Established in 2009 with support from the City Council, they took long term leases on former warehouses and industrial premises in the Baltic Triangle area. Over time they converted these buildings into small units and rented them out exclusively to digital and creative industries, with profits reinvested into their three core objectives: providing additional space for creative and digital industries, being an advocate for the creative and digital industry and playing a role in the wider regeneration of the Baltic Triangle. 

Sasha Lord, the Greater Manchester Night Time Economy Advisor, became a nightclub promotor after leaving school at 18. A few decades later he founded the Warehouse Project, a huge nightclub brand, and Parklife, a festival that brings £10m into the Manchester economy each year. Who will be the next generation of creative entrepreneurs, and how can cities support these individuals to develop?