Interview: “People who think ‘night time’ equals alcohol, drugs and problems are not really living in this decade…” 909originals speaks to Manchester’s night-time economy adviser Sacha Lord

Earlier this month, Dublin City Council published the Dublin City Agreement 2019-2024, a series of pledges covering everything from housing to transport, and from environmental protection to childcare.

From an arts and culture perspective, included within that document is the commitment to ‘protect and enhance’ the city’s night time culture with the appointment of a night mayor, similar to that of other cities such as Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam.

In addition, the Council pledges to promote venues that accommodate both ‘day time and night time cultural and creative activities’.

The agreement has rightly been hailed as a progressive step by groups such as Give Us The Night, which has led the charge in calling for recognition of the importance of the night-time economy, both for the capital and the wider country.

In a tweet, Give Us The Night commended councillors for pledging to appoint a night mayor, saying that it was “look[ing] forward to a hopefully swift implementation. This should be matched by new, progressive legislation at national level, to truly transform culture, music and entertainment across Ireland.”

But what should be top of the agenda for the incoming night mayor, when he or she is named?

909originals caught up with an individual that holds a similar role just across the Irish Sea – the night time economy adviser of Greater Manchester, Sacha Lord.

“It’s important that the councillors in Dublin nominate somebody that has a history in, and understands the importance of the night time economy,” he says. “I think that’s absolutely key.”

Lord, the founder of both the Warehouse Project club nights and the Parklike festival, took on the role in June of last year, and was handed the responsibility to ‘develop, discuss and deliver’ plans to develop the night time economy of Manchester and its environs, to make it more attractive to visitors, safe, boasting high quality culture and transport options, and supporting jobs.

The role has proved so successful that in April of this year, London appointed its first ‘night czar’, Amy Lamé, while Glasgow is said to be considering the same.

Dublin’s Temple Bar is not the only area that will benefit from a more reasoned approach to the night-time economy

As Lord explains, the night-time economy, in UK terms at least, is defined as being “between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., so it’s not just about nightclubs and bars – it includes theatres, cinemas, restaurants, hotels.

In Manchester, which is slightly different to other markets, the hospitality sector accounts for 33% of the night-time economy as we define it, another 33% is the NHS, and the remainder is made up of shift workers, or factory workers that work through the night.

“Obviously my background, first and foremost, is as an operator and I concentrate heavily on that.”

When Lord came into the role, the first few months were spent burning shoe leather and getting out to meet as many stakeholders as possible, something that the would-be Dublin night mayor should take on board, he explains.

“I think the first port of call [for Dublin’s night mayor] should be to get out and meet as many people as possible, get as many different perspectives as you can,”he says.

“In Manchester, that process took about 12 months, but it was a crucial step, because one person cannot have all the answers. I went round all the different boroughs of Manchester, all the different districts, and I met with the key operators, councillors, community leaders. It’s very important to hear what is working, what isn’t working, and what they want to see more of.”

From there, a panel was formed, of “like-minded people: operators, councillors, people from the NHS, key stakeholders in terms of the night-time economy,” he adds.

We’ve formed a blueprint that’s been signed off by our mayor Andy Burnham, which is sufficient for the next 12 months across Greater Manchester, covering five key areas, such as safety, connectivity, things like that. It’s basically a synergy of what people want to see hapen in the night-time economy, and how to achieve that.

“In Dublin, a good starting point would be to put together a steering group of councillors that have the same vision, and invite them on a night out, meet with good operators, understand their needs. There should be open dialogue, with everybody on the same level.”

Lord admits that unlike many cities, Manchester has had a long understanding of the importance of culture in driving the vibrancy of the city. “That probably stems from the days of The Hacienda, Factory Records, New Order, The Stone Roses, The Smiths and so on. Music, and the night-time economy is acknowledged as bringing so much tourism to the economy.

“For example, the Parklife Festival, which took place two weeks ago, brought £10 million pounds into the local economy. The council understands how big these sort of events are and how important it is to bring people in to the city, and and integrate a night-time experience into Greater Manchester.”

The Warehouse Project, in Manchester – a key tourism driver [Picture source: The Warehouse Project]

With every opportunity, however, there are plenty of challenges, and there is still a sizeable demographic that sees measures to improve the nocturnal economy as a byword for encouraging antisocial behaviour, alcohol abuse and drug use.

“People who think ‘night time’ equals alcohol, drugs and problems are not really living in this decade,” says Lord.

“What will no doubt be recognised by the authorities in Dublin is that the night-time economy probably employs 10% of the whole workforce. In the UK, it’s the fifth biggest industry. It cannot be disregarded.

“There are always going to be a few people in suits pointing fingers, but the simple fact is that the night-time economy is employing thousands of people.

“If you go to Barcelona, Berlin, Paris or New York you can walk into an art gallery at 10pm and then go and get a cup of coffee and a bagel or something like that, and enjoy the night time. Dublin’s got some amazing cultural references, such as the Gaiety Theatre, lots of art galleries; it’s not just about underground nightclubs.”

As has been documented extensively both on this site and elsewhere, Dublin’s nightlife is going through a challenging time, with high profile venues such as District 8 and Hangar making way for hotel developments, and those clubs that are still operating having to contend with significant increases in operating costs.

“This is exactly why it’s very important that somebody is taking up the role of night mayor,” says Lord. “Somebody has to sit down with licensing bodies and with authorities, and planners, and speak on behalf of the club or pub operators.

“You can have hotel after hotel, and more and more people coming into Dublin, but in the end, if they don’t have anywhere to go, it doesn’t make sense at all.”

Dublin club District 8 closed in January of this year

It’s not just venue closures that are making the headlines, of course, with planning and licensing regulations also impacting venues’ ability to trade. The recent decision by An Bord Pleanála to force The Bernard Shaw to close its outdoor area – opposition to which has garnered close to 25,000 signatures – is the most high-profile recent example.

Lord suggests that the ‘Agent of Change’ planning framework, which was recently implemented in the UK, offers a guideline for how entertainment venues and residential developments can co-exist effectively.

“Let’s say that a bar, restaurant or a club has been in operation for a set period of time, ten years or so, and a a developer comes in and opens a block of apartments next door,” he says. “The way things operate at the moment, one complaint from that block of flats could shut that bar down. That’s just not right.

“Under Agent of Change, what the developer would need to do is completely insulate the business and make everybody that’s buying something in there aware that there’s a bar or restaurant next door. Also, in terms of the bar or restaurant, there would be a responsibility to keep sound levels below a certain level, and similarly insulate the property. Both parties work hand in hand with each other – they’re not in opposition.

“There needs to be a common sense approach. The city of Berlin actually put €1 million aside to help small individual live music venues soundproof their businesses. That’s a really progressive step.”

Ultimately, says Lord, the success of any future Dublin night mayor will rest on his or her ability to bring the various stakeholders to the table, and have an “open and honest” conversation about how to take things forward.

“Just because somebody is wearing a shirt with epaulettes on the shoulders doesn’t mean that they have a better idea about the night-time economy than you do,” he says. “Everyone is in it together.”

[Thanks to Sacha for the interview. More information on Give Us The Night can be found by clicking here]

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