29 October 2015

With the news last week that the Mayor of London’s Music Venues Taskforce are recommending the creation of a ‘night time economy champion’ – similar to Amsterdam’s night mayor position – it seems the Night Time Industries Association’s agenda is starting to be realised. We sat down with the organisation’s chairman, Alan Miller, to find out what else they’re trying to achieve and why and how they came into existence.

Tell us about your background. How long have you been involved in the night life sector?

I have been in the industry for 25 years, staging events, promotions and running venues around the world. I co-founded The Old Truman Brewery in 1995 to create London’s cultural hub of creative industries anchored around The Vibe Bar. I helped take the area from a ‘No Go’ zone to a place referenced as the model for urban regeneration.

Was there a pivotal moment that made you decide to set up the NTIA or was it a cumulative process?

Yes. When I called a meeting of various leading figures in the night time industries to talk about the enormous challenges being faced by us all and imposed by local authorities and police via licensing which had increased to an untenable level – and everyone told me they had the same experience!

There was a moment on Brick Lane where we had been consistently targeted at The Vibe Bar and treated as though we were criminals rather than businesses employing people and paying taxes and improving neighbourhoods – not to mention adding all of the cultural brand value to the area and London. It was clear that something had to be done because this was not about a few individuals, but a national strategy to penalise our sector. When we all met for the first time to discuss it, everybody agreed and The NTIA was born.

How does one even go about setting up such an organisation?

With a considerable amount of hard work, time and effort! Having a great strong board of key players is vital, and we are lucky enough to have a brilliant advisory board too. Tom is a valiant stalwart who is in the trenches pushing with our organisation across the UK.

Calling people, getting press coverage, organising meetings and events and campaigns and being clear with the message to win hearts and minds all round is key. Then more hard work. Then… some more again.

What has the NTIA achieved thus far?

Our first year was all about one goal: to begin to change the narrative about the night time industries from ‘Night Time Economy / Industry = ASBOs and crime’ to ‘NTE / I = economic benefits and enormous cultural contribution and value’. We have achieved huge national attention and pushed the discussion considerably already.

Alongside that, we have made it concrete in terms of doing something when faced with a challenge with our involvement in the We Love Hackney campaign – which saw over 5000 local residents in Hackney write in to challenge Hackney Council’s Licensing Consultation (compared to their Deputy Mayor receiving just over 2000 votes in the mayoral elections). It has now been postponed with a promise for a big debate on the night time economy.

What have been the biggest obstacles you have faced?

The key thing is to hone down what you can do as there are so many factors impacting us currently. That, and money! We need much more of it! We have kept membership rates very low to make it easier for small businesses to join us and be part of the movement, but cost is a constant challenge.

How is the current government’s attitude towards clubbing, festivals, music and licensing currently?

Well, the government is one thing – but things play out across local councils who all have their own positions too. Both government and local authorities have schizophrenic attitudes. “We like the night time economy, it brings in income… BUT…” Then they go on to tell you all the issues they have. It’s from an old script, and we always historically handled issues like noise attenuation and so on. But currently when Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe says that to reduce crime “50% of bars and clubs need to close”, we know that the huge benefits of £66 Billion industry employing 8% of our workforce is a vital part of UK Plc.

How do you learn from other countries’ nighttime industries?

We are working with groups from Sydney, Melbourne, Austin, San Francisco, Berlin, Amsterdam, Toronto, Philippines and I have just had a big meeting with New York colleagues. We will be announcing some key international coalition strategies soon.

What’s currently and next on the agenda?

Carrying on changing the national narrative.

What can promoters and venue owners do to try and further the reputation of their industry?

Always continue to be as professional and diligent as possible – although we know most of us are. It’s a highly regulated industry with lots of pressures, but it is always worthwhile and smart to have as good a relationship with local residents as possible. That is key.

And then, of course….Join the NTIA!  

The news is out that you are pushing for a night time champion to be elected in London, much like Amsterdam’s night mayor. What needs to happen to make this a reality, and how have the mayor’s office worked with you on this?

We are delighted that the Mayor of London will be supporting the creation of a Night Time Economy Champion. This role will be able to navigate the relationship between the various areas that impact decisions on London from housing, to transport a voice to work alongside the police and indeed the various authorities across the capital. It is a great step forward and came out of recommendations that we consulted on with the Mayor’s Music Venue Taskforce. There will also be a strong Music Development Board comprised of members of the music industry providing a strong voice. Agent of Change has also been recognised as very important and is therefore included.

The role of Night Time Economy Champion is a crucial one that can diplomatically work between the industry, business and authorities to encourage true partnership and a way everyone in a future oriented city can benefit. There are challenges, but we like to compare the Night Time Economy with the Olympics for Britain. Let’s enthusiastically go for it, with all the cultural and economic benefits and joy it brings!

If you could change one law in the UK with regards to the night time industries, what would it be and why?

The planning laws are crucial. Licensing is important. However, planning and UK housing policy impacts it all significantly. The Agent of Change principle needs to come into effect in the UK – whereby people building houses and flats sound insulate and take measures to prevent noise and disturbance from any nearby venues.

We need that with our night time economy because it is one of the only dynamic sectors in the UK. Without it, we are dead in the water culturally and economically.

Please do come and join us – we need you to be part of making this change and protecting our industry. Find us on Twitter @wearethentia and find me at @alanvibe

Click here to find out how to join the NTIA.

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