Murder of the dancefloor

What's killing Britain's once-thriving nightlife?

7th February 2019

Nobody can make up their mind about millennials. Are we the generation that is constantly complaining and drinking absurdly expensive coffee? The generation that goes out every night and spends all their money on drugs and alcohol? Or are we the boring, snowflake generation that keeps killing off industries?

The hospitality sector is the third largest sector in the UK, creating £130bn in economic activity and generating £38bn of tax for the Exchequer, according to UK Hospitality.

Of course that’s a lot of money, but just because the cash is flowing doesn’t mean the industry is thriving. In 2005 there were 3,144 nightclubs in the UK. A decade later in 2015, that number dropped dramatically to just 1,733, according to The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR).

And it’s not just clubs that have taken a hit. Between 1 January and the 31 July 2018, there were 476 pub closures across the UK, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) found. That’s an average of 18.3 pub closures per week, not including temporary closures for things like refurbishments. Those pubs have gone for good.

In fact, across the entire hospitality sector eight venues were closed on average every single day between January and June 2018.

Britain’s clubs are closing down at an alarming rate 📸 Ewan Munro

CAMRA’s national chairman Jackie Parker says these pub closure figures “paint a dismal picture” for pubs. “As taxes continue to rise, more people are choosing to drink at home, and consequently pubs are closing down. It’s a vicious cycle,” she explains.

“Pub closures make us all poorer by reducing overall tax revenues raised by the pub sector and weakening community life in areas where valued pubs close. Fundamental change is needed if the British pub is to survive for future generations. We are urging the government to take action to secure the future of our pubs by relieving the tax burden.”

A third of the price of a pint is made up of various taxes, and it’s no secret the price of a pint has dramatically increased in recent years. In August 2018, YouGov revealed over half (56%) of all Brits believe the price of a pint in a UK pub is unaffordable.

The public’s expectations and interests have changed, and if a venue isn’t in a financial position where they can adapt they are eventually going to fall behind

Those beliefs, paired with the rise in price have certainly had a negative effect on the industry’s wet sales profit, a term used to describe sales of all drinks. ALMR revealed the hospitality industry lost 5% profit from wet sales between 2015 and 2017.

Chloe, a deputy manager of a popular bar in Leeds, believes the reason a lot of venues have closed is that customers’ needs have changed quicker than some venues can facilitate them.

“The public’s expectations and interests have changed, and if a venue isn’t in a financial position where they can adapt they are eventually going to fall behind,” she says.

“As more and more people switch to fancy spirits and cocktails, larger pubs and bar companies are at an advantage for these new and changing expectations, but for smaller, independent or privately run venues, this demand can be difficult to fund.

“There is so much choice around as an alternative to the standard pub; cocktails bars, a whole host of different styled restaurants alongside crazy golf, bowling, beer pong and early evening activities.

“Every street you turn down in city centres, there are rows of pubs, bars and clubs all competing, all trying to take as much trade as possible.”

The quality of teams within the industry can be questionable because of the amount of new staff

ALMR says the hospitality industry supports 1.6 million jobs in the UK, creating one in seven of all new jobs. However, Chloe says she thinks the number of people being hired in the industry isn’t always a positive.

“For venues within large companies, the training cost per head is huge,” she explains. “Not to mention the time and money spent in each venue for management to train on all aspects of their business and pay the new team for their time training.”

“The quality of teams within the industry can be questionable because of the amount of new staff in each venue,” she adds.

“This could, in turn, contribute negatively to a business’s sales and success as reviews and Trip Advisor play such a huge part in influencing where customers go.”

📸 Catrin Austin

Fourth, a hospitality management and research business, revealed in 2017 that 29% of people working in the hospitality industry are under 21-years-old, many of whom are students with no intention of staying put.

Chloe says she believes it’s hard to find a balance between staff who want to work in the industry and students who don’t.

“I think this will be an ongoing issue so long as teams are paid minimum wage for working late hours and into the early hours of the morning. We are never going to be able to take on a full team of individuals that are all relying on having a career in bar work when they are expected to work unsociable hours for no extra pay.”

Students are often forced to look for jobs when they fly the nest and move away from home to study. Student loans barely cover rent and as some people don’t have the luxury of calling mum or dad for some extra money, a lot of people need to make their own just to survive.

A lot of older people would probably welcome them “to the real world”, but the struggle of balancing a demanding work life with academia can have a significant effect on their current social life and their future job prospects.

Like Chloe says, finding the right staff can be difficult, and a lot of hospitality venues are left without staff when students graduate, drop out or decide they need to leave because they can’t keep up with both studying and working.

Students will eventually leave with the intention of getting a “real job” when they graduate

Sophie, a student in Leeds found work in a pub when she realised her student loan wasn’t enough to get by and says she recognises the struggle some venues face when employing students. “I think students are less committed to a company and have more of a careless attitude than non-students.

“Students are more about getting by so they can finish uni. This means staff turnover is high because students will eventually leave with the intention of getting a ‘real job’ when they graduate,” she adds.

However, students also have a huge impact on the industry from the other side of the bar. It’s hard to miss the number of venues that offer discounts for students, or some other way to entice students to drink in their establishments.

📸 Stephen Griffin

Many pubs with nearby universities rely on business brought in by students to keep the company going, and see fresher’s week as the biggest date in their calendar.

Chris, a deputy manager of a bar in Leeds says his target audience is students and without them, he and his staff would be out of a job.

“The pub is in a student area, and without the students, we wouldn’t make enough money to stay open. We’ve had to become more and more student-oriented in recent years.”

A lot of places need students. You just hope they spend enough to make up for any customers they put off

However, with student deals come students, and the effect that can have on the atmosphere of a pub or bar isn’t for everyone.

“I can see that the students being loud and excited does put off some people. A few of my friends that come in and drink have mentioned it, and I think they’re a little apprehensive about coming here.

“But that’s how it is. A lot of places need students. You just hope they spend enough to make up for any customers they put off.”

All that aside, many see price as the most crucial factor. Research conducted by pub trade and business sector magazine The Morning Advertiser shows the colossal difference between prices of alcohol on a night out and in supermarkets.

The study found a 25ml measure of either Russian Standard Vodka or Smirnoff cost on average £2.61 in bars, pubs and clubs. In supermarkets, the same brand can be bought in a bottle for the equivalent of 48p per 25ml measure, and supermarket-own brand is sold at the equivalent of 41p per 25ml.

Alcohol sales in the second quarter of 2018 were 4.1% higher in supermarkets than they were in bars, pubs and clubs, when compared to the same quarter in 2017, the British Beer & Pub Association found.

With sales on the rise and prices being so low, supermarkets will be hoping the rest of the UK doesn’t follow Scotland’s implementation of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP).

Since the activation of the MUP in May, sales of some alcohol types have fallen. Cider was one of the alcohol segments given the highest increase of price at 22%, and as a result, sales have decreased by 8%, according to research undertaken by data measurement company, Nielsen.

However, with sales of gin, vodka and beer remaining flat, Nielsen says the sales of alcohol in Scotland haven’t been negatively affected on the whole.

Scots, finding their favourite tipple out of reach, may simply reach for the painkillers

When the MUP policy was first discussed, many believed it would go a long way toward solving issues of alcoholism and underage drinking. But NHS consultant Dr Michael Colvin has warned of an “addiction transfer” and says MUP may lead to a rise in drug consumption and overdosing.

In a letter to The Herald he says, “Consumers of large volumes of cheap alcohol must be vulnerable to drug use. We all want MUP to be a success, but some unhappy Scots, finding their favourite tipple out of reach, may simply reach for the painkillers.”

MUP is not currently in effect throughout the rest of the UK, despite calls from some MPs to bring in the law to tackle the problems caused by alcohol abuse. However, some fear that if the pricing of alcohol was to rise again, people would resort to drugs.

Drugs are often just as cheap and accessible as alcohol. In 2017, figures from Drug Wise UK revealed the prices of some of the nation’s most popular drugs.

A quarter ounce of herbal cannabis is available for an average of £37. Ecstasy is available for as low as £5 to £15 per pill. Even cocaine is as cheap as £30 to £40 per gram, and ketamine’s recent spike in popularity has lowered its price per gram to £20 to £30.

Other research conducted by Drug Wise UK reveals 9% of adults aged 16 to 59 had taken drugs in 2017, a 0.5% increase from the previous year. The data also shows 19.8% of those aged 16 to 24 took drugs in 2017, up by 0.6% from 2016.

📸 Valerie Everett

However, this recent increase follows a period of steady decline. In 2006, over 10% of people aged 16 to 59 tried drugs, according to the ONS.

The rise in drug taking goes hand-in-hand with the increase in UK’s illegal rave and house party culture. A Sky News investigation revealed there were 680 reports of unlicensed music events last year. This is a 9% increase from the previous year.

Only 14 of the UK’s 45 territorial police forces in England and Wales provided their figures, meaning the figures are likely to be significantly higher.

Many people thought raves and house parties would disappear in 1994 when large, unlicensed music events officially became illegal with the introduction of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. However, fast forward to 2018 and the unlicensed music scene is thriving once again.

When large-scale, unlicensed music events became illegal they were organised as underground and as private as possible.

Josh, a student from Middlesbrough says he believes house parties and unlicensed raves aren’t just about the positive environment taking place away from mainstream clubs like they were in the 90s. These days, he thinks, they’ve evolved into efforts of saving money and having just as much fun as you would on a night out.

“I went to a house party recently that had bouncers, three different DJs in three different rooms with massive speakers that are usually rented out by clubs,” he says.

It was just like being on a night out but in a student house

“They had set up their own bar and were selling drinks a lot cheaper than you would normally get them for in a club. It was just like being on a night out but in a student house.”

As crazy as it sounds, Josh says that this is normal and its happening up and down the UK every weekend.“House parties remove the restrictions that conventional venues have. They provide a lot more freedom in terms of what young people can get up to.

“There’s a one-up mentality between students having a better house party than the last,” he adds.

With each generation after the next seemingly becoming more and more financially fucked, there’s no end in sight for the downfall of the UK’s nightlife. However, the rise in unlicensed music events shows us that Brits will always find some way of getting off their tits.

7th February 2019