Nightclubs admit confusion over UK Covid rules as ‘freedom day’ nears | Clubbing

On Sunday at 11.50pm in the Heaven nightclub in Charing Cross, London, customers enjoying a socially distanced seated drink will be asked to step away from their tables and chairs.

Over a 10-minute period, the dancefloor will be cleared and at just after midnight the music will restart as clubbing in the UK takes its first tentative steps toward recovery after a torrid year and a half, as lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Jeremy Joseph, the owner of G-A-Y Group and Heaven, says the moment will be a leap into the unknown. “I don’t know how people are going to react,” he says. “We have no idea.”

Joseph’s reopening preparations have been fraught. He says a lack of timely, substantial government guidance on how nightclubs should operate has left clubbers with a lack of confidence and understanding of what is expected of them.

“People are confused and have no idea what will be happening on Sunday or Monday because the government has decided to wash their hands of it,” he says.

Government guidance has been scarce with clubs encouraged to clean, improve air flow in poorly ventilated areas while staff who are unwell are advised to stay at home.

An update late on Wednesday encourages use of the NHS contact app but it will not be a legal requirement, and the same goes for showing proof of being vaccinated – with four in five clubs saying they will not ask for verification. The biggest nightclub chains – including Rekom UK – have said they will not ask for vaccine passports either.

The Fabric co-founder Cameron Leslie described the staggered government guidance for nightclubs as being like “someone throwing a hand grenade into a room and shutting the door”. The club will reopen on the weekend of 23 July and clubbers will not be asked to present their vaccination passports.

He says: “It’s complicated to put the new guidance into practice and communicate that effectively to our audience. Suddenly now we’ve got a whole layer of additional measures that we need to adapt to.”

Nightclubs in the UK have been particularly hard hit in the pandemic. Closed since March 2020, many have not been able to reopen at all, with some being unsuccessful in their applications for government grants, such as the cultural recovery fund.

New Year’s Eve at G-A-Y Heaven in Charing Cross, London, before the pandemic. Nightclubs have been hit hard by the Covid crisis.
New Year’s Eve at G-A-Y Heaven in Charing Cross, London, before the pandemic. Nightclubs have been hit hard by the Covid crisis. Photograph: Equinox/Shutterstock

An all parliamentary group report released in February found that more than half of all nightclub staff had been made redundant during the pandemic, with clubs making only 20% of their pre-pandemic revenue since lockdowns began.

The Night Time Industries Association, which estimates its members contribute £66bn a year to the UK economy, says nightclub owners are nervous. “Come Monday, it’s going to be a stop or go moment,” says the association’s chief executive, Michael Kill. “Everyone’s very tentative given the fact that 21 June didn’t go in the right direction.”

Kill welcomes the reopening after the NTIA pushed for a restriction-free restart to make things as frictionless as possible for its members. He argues that the suggested Covid-19 precautions some in the sector have put forward – such as linking ticket sales and test result data before entry is allowed – will present expensive barriers for already battered venues. “Logistically, it causes problems,” says Kill.

“There’s still a lot of work to do to maintain and keep some level of safety in terms of protocols, sanitation and preparations for safeguarding staff and customers – we’re not going to lose sight of that,” he adds.

Many clubs are pushing ahead with a full programme of events – such as XOYO, which is hosting a seven-week residency hosted by drum’n’bass musician Goldie – but heading into dark, busy clubs is not what some consumers want at the moment.

A quarter of people in Britain say they would not be comfortable attending live events, according to a YouGov survey in July, while a recent Ipsos Mori poll for the Economist found 26% of respondents thought nightclubs should never reopen.Leslie thinks the clubbing landscape will be “choppy” for the next six months but beyond that he is optimistic about where things will go for clubs. “I think a great night out is something that people took for granted slightly,” he says.

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