Bristol’s first night time economy advisor Carly Heath questions why so few UK city councils have someone championing an industry that pre-pandemic was worth over £66 billion to the UK economy.
The city doesn’t stop at 6 o’clock, it comes alive. The night time economy is the beating heart of our communities. If you work normal office hours, when you’re not at work, you’re in the night time. Every single city, town and village across this country have some form of a night time economy, whether it’s your local country pub, a thriving road of restaurants, or a super-club playing dusk till dawn. Every single one of these businesses is given a premise licence from its local authority and operates within the confines of the local licensing committee. Why then do the needs of the night time not have representation in every single council across this country?
In the UK we have three night time representatives. Amy Lamé as the night czar for London, Sacha Lord the night time economy advisor for Manchester, and myself in Bristol. Three people to represent an industry that pre-pandemic was worth more than £66bn to the economy and, for a city like Bristol, represents a third of our workforce.
Night time gets a bad reputation with local councils. We generate noise complaints, we demand transportation to operate at sensible times, we bring people into town centres, which creates work for our police forces, ambulance crews and street cleansing teams… but we’ve witnessed the alternative during the darkest days of lockdowns. What is a city without nightlife? It’s a soulless collection of buildings, unused, quiet. Unloved. Cities are meant to be lived in, and people move into urban areas because they want the opportunities the city offers. They want to live somewhere that’s vibrant. We should be able to access the city for another reason than simply working in an office, or shopping and retail.
The job of a night time advisor goes way beyond pubs, clubs, anti-social behaviour, and students falling out of kebab shops at 3am. We touch into licensing, planning, policy, commercial waste, mental health, drug and alcohol harm reduction, women’s safety, economic development, and high street recovery. Councils across the country work hard to work with the sector to deliver change, whether through protecting existing venues from developers with agent of change, facilitating festivals within the city or creating an environment for meanwhile use buildings to be co-opted as popup venues. Every town and city tackles nightlife differently, and we deserve representation in every local authority.
And just as the city doesn’t stop at 6 o’clock, neither does our influence. We are at the centre of so many conversations around women’s safety at night, as if nightlife is the source of misogyny and our problem alone to solve. The work I’m doing in Bristol around recognising, tackling, and standing up against sexual harassment in our city is the bedrock of tackling gender inequality. We can have all the will in the world to ‘smash the patriarchy’, but nightlife can be a cornerstone of helping to make this happen.
I see the job of night governance as something of a ‘cultural gardener’. We nurture the environment for creativity and life to flourish. It’s our job to put in the groundwork. The creatives come in and provide the ‘vibrancy’, the population come in and provide the ‘life’. The Night Time Economy is an extremely important part of British culture. The city doesn’t stop at 6pm, and the needs of the night should be represented at a policy level if we are to flourish as 24-hour cities.