Whilst we might dream of going out for a meal or a rave one day, the COVID-19 crisis means the way we work, rest and play is now all about staying and playing at home. Not going out is the new normal. So is it possible that the Night-Time Economy (NTE) is beyond recovery and what does it all mean?
The NTE was the UK’s fifth largest industry, covering a wide range of activities from pubs and clubs to cinema and theatre, generating around £66billion of revenue a year and employing millions. But that was before COVID-19, when people thrived on being together and packed into clubs, bars and theatres.
The Core Cities’ Cultural Enquiry into how we can enrich UK cities through smart investment in culture – including the NTE – highlighted the enormous benefits culture brings to our towns and cities. The NTE has traditionally played a critical role in boosting local and regional growth but it will be one of the last sectors to be released from lockdown and it is hard to see how the NTE in our core cities will bounce back.
Night Time Economy Solutions published their breakdown of the guidance in the Government’s roadmap strategy to rebuild Britain, and what it means for industry, into manageable chunks and suggestions for businesses. These include optimising social distancing measures by creating strategies in which businesses can use their space and skills safely – such as wearing masks, reducing capacity and setting up take-away services, as well as encouraging businesses to introduce smarter controls and continually risk assessing their business models and plans.
Of course, too many questions and unknowns remain. How will businesses operating in the NTE restore confidence in customers to come back and to feel safe in their venues? And even then, once social distancing rules and regulations are applied, will crowds ever be the same again? Although one obvious answer to help businesses return to normal is to ramp up testing capacity, we wait to see what solutions are brought forward to help tackle the critical issues this sector is facing.
On the upside it is good to see some innovative and positive responses to the problem in our Northern cities and regions. In Greater Manchester, Mayor Andy Burnham appointed Sacha Lord – founder The Warehouse Project and Parklife Festival – as a dedicated Night-Time Economy Adviser, to look at what needs to be done to regenerate the NTE. Sacha Lord also launched the United We Stream (UWS) initiative, which showcases Manchester’s world class cultural talent. UWS attracted over 1m views over May Bank Holiday for its virtual DJ Sets and concerts, raising over £300,000 in support for the NTE and creative industries. We have also seen many innovative ideas implemented across the UK to help support and keep our NTE culture alive and kicking. Independent SMEs across the North have adapted and created new ways to connect with their customers: Jimmy’s Bar in Liverpool have been hosting live isolation gigs on their Instagram channel; The Spinn restaurant in Greater Manchester owned by actor Adam Thomas has become both a take away and local shop for nearby residents; and Sunderland’s local ale producer Maxim Brewery have created a drive through brewery take away service to continue serving thirsty customers.
For now the NTE has been re-invented, ‘at home’, but it is pikestaff plain that the Government must have a much better strategy if we are going to be able to re-set and rebuild the NTE across the North. It will be a tragedy for the North if this rich seam of talent, innovation and creativity ends up being one of the biggest economic casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic.