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Will Covid-19 be the nail in the coffin for Bristol’s nightlife?


Small venues were under intense development pressure even before Covid-19 struck. Now the risk has become existential, says Flo Ralston

A city’s culture is often disbanded at the cost of redevelopment. Do we want to lose the UK’s nightlife culture? It’s disappearing fast: from 2008 to 2018, 4,802 clubs closed, with many more being threatened by the economic aftermath of Covid-19.

In Bristol, this industry is a big employer of young people and ethnic minorities. Thanks to its prominent Afro-Caribbean community, the city’s nightlife has deep roots in soundsystem culture. Over 50 years, reggae and dub reggae have become central to the city’s musical identity. From them, drum & bass, dubstep, grime and jungle developed; music genres for which the city is now world-renowned. Bristol’s music venues attract tourists from around the world, and was named by the National Geographic magazine as Europe’s Trendiest City in 2018.

Bristol is in desperate need of new housing, but the solution is not straightforward. A supplementary planning document promotes denser inner-city living and, when coupled with recent planning reforms by the government, it is easier than ever to convert offices and non-residential town centre buildings into flats.

Clubs are typically situated away from residential areas to avoid noise complaints. But the conversion of offices and industrial spaces into flats suddenly creates a clash between the new accommodation and pre-existing clubs as new residents are irritated by the noise.

“From the start of lockdown clubs were the first to close and will be the last to reopen”

Potential for conflict between new development and established city centre venues recently threatened the major club Motion which, after a long battle with several developers and a petition receiving 12,500 signatories, finally secured the legal protection of a deed of easement earlier this year.

Smaller, yet still prominent, clubs have been less lucky: Lakota is closing to make way for more profitable flats (developed by the owners); Blue Mountain has been purchased by developers; Clockwork was demolished for student accommodation; and The Trinity Centre is being threatened by several proposed residential developments surrounding its building.

Covid-19 has only exacerbated this threat: from the start of lockdown clubs were the first to close and will be the last to reopen.

Loans offered by the government and the £1.5 million grant to save 150 music venues nationally will do little to keep them afloat. Could Covid-19 be the final nail in the coffin for Bristol’s nightlife?

Flo Ralston is a campaigner on behalf of Bristol’s nightlife

Image credit | Shutterstock


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