The Deserted Dancers: the real consequences of the government’s nightclub neglect

With a lack of clarity over where nightclubs fit into the government’s arts and culture support package, these spaces will be devastated.”

August bank holiday traditionally evokes a sense of summer drawing to a close; a point after which the paddling pool is returned to the shed, the heating switched on for an hour in the evening. A holiday synonymous with music festivals, it is one last chance to frollick in the sunshine with a few drinks before long autumn and winter nights start to set in.

While social distancing had cancelled most of the music events earmarked for August’s long weekend, there were still plenty going on that defied these rules. Illegal raves are firmly in the spotlight at the moment, with nationwide gatherings earning a severe backlash from police, media and frightened locals. The biggest gathering of the bank holiday was in Banwen, South Wales, where roughly 3,000 people are estimated to have attended. Assistant Chief Constable of SWP David Thorne proudly tweeted at 6PM on Monday “Rave at Banwen is over!” but national police forces were also busy stopping parties in Norfolk, Essex and West Yorkshire.

The government pre-empted such activity by announcing that organisers of illegal gatherings could face £10,000 fines and if Thorne’s twitter is to be believed, 22 Banwen ravers have been reported under this new COVID legislation. Pictures from last weekend illustrate the way these events are policed is escalating. 70 officers were used to end the Banwen party, some on horseback, whilst Norfolk units brandishing riot shields clashed with crowds in Thetford Forest. Distressing scenes perhaps, but no one can say this was not coming.

Assistant Chief Constable of SWP David Thorne on Twitter

Ultimately larger fines and militant crackdowns will only deepen the contempt that the government are held in by ravers. Anybody that made the pilgrimage to Banwen on Sunday morning might argue that their actions are not totally dissimilar from those of a government minister during the depths of lockdown. Trust and credibility, precarious at the best of times, have been utterly eroded from the top down and any thaw in relations will rely not on fines but a change in mindset. The people who are ultimately paying for these events are not politicians, but NHS staff fighting the virus and older locals. If riot gear were replaced by scrubs, maybe people would think twice.

The continued blackout of nightclubs is undoubtedly aggravating the situation. Bars, theatres and music venues have all re-opened in recent weeks but very little has been said about when nightclubs will be able to do the same. Combined with a lack of clarity over where these spaces fit into the government’s £1.57 billion arts and culture support package, it is evident that even by COVID standards nightclubs will be devastated.

It is simply impossible to imagine the government treating Sub Club, for example, with the same level of support and funding as a theatre, gallery or museum. Nightclubs seem to be currently faced with two options: set up a crowdfunding page to struggle through this indeterminable stretch of time (Sub Club has already done this successfully) or look beyond their dancefloor for other event spaces, a logistical challenge made even more difficult when operating on a skeleton staff.

For those in doubt as to whether these venues could be safely re-opened, let alone offer a more controlled environment than a rave, the NTIA’s website and their proposed opening strategy offers some insight. Media outlets have swiftly labelled anyone eligible for a rail card as irresponsible and selfish but unless the government are willing to help nightclubs through the pandemic, this is a problem that will persist long after summer is over.

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