As we close the lid on 2022, one story has remained constant throughout the year. A bleak reminder of the repercussions of the War in Ukraine and impact of consistent mismanagement, deceit and complacency from the Tory Government – the cost of living crisis.
With the Bank of England predicting the UK will be hit by a recession in 2023, as well as a continuing price hike on food, gas and petrol, the picture painted doesn’t breed optimism.
Our LGBTQ+ safe spaces and historic venues have already been struggling, with nightlife venues specifically being affected. A report commissioned by the Mayor Of London by University College London found that between 2006 – 2017 a total of 73 queer venues closed across the capital leaving just 53 standing.
With the added pressures of the current cost of living crisis, it’s imperative that LGBTQ+ safe spaces such as our nightlife spaces, theatre venues, our sober spaces and our community centres have our support more than ever.
GAY TIMES spoke with some of the UK’s favourite LGBTQ+ venues to see how the cost of living crisis is impacting them, and to ask how the queer community can support them in 2023.
Royal Vauxhall Tavern – Vauxhall, London
Built in 1865, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (commonly known as the RVT) became the go-to LGBTQ+ cabaret venue in the 1980s.
“In the early 1950s it started to become a gay venue to servicement visiting London who came to watch the drag artists,” shares James Lindsay, CEO and Managing Director of the south London venue. “Wherever I travel in the world, people always know of the RVT. That gives me a great sense of pride.”
On the impact of the cost of living crisis so far James reminds us how tough the past three years have been as a whole. “Without a doubt the two year loss of business through COVID and its slow recovery process as people’s confidence grew in how to socialise and meet friends again has had an impact. Now the cost of living crisis continues to bite hard with energy costs and brewery prices. The RVT remains in a strong position and whilst our recovery has been encouraging we need to manage how these additional costs will impact the business.”
James adds: “There are thousands of straight pubs across the UK. That is why it’s especially important for the LGBTQ+ community to support their own community. We want to grow and nurture artists who will become artists of the future.”
Queer Lit – Northern Quarter, Manchester
Winner of ‘Best New Business’ at the LGBTQ+ Business Awards in 2021, Queer Lit is a must-visit destination for those seeking their next queer literary masterpiece. After making the move from selling online to opening their first physical store in August 2021, owner Matthew Cornford is passionate about supporting local business.
“Buying books from LGBTQ+ venues like us over Amazon or Waterstones has a far larger benefit for our community than you might think. We work closely with LGBTQ+ authors and publishers to ensure our community’s voices are heard. We create a space where anyone questioning their identity can get support … if venues like Queer Lit disappeared there would be a huge impact on visibility and support for young LGBTQ+ people.”
The physical shop, located in Manchester’s Northern Quarter has only been open for just over 12 months, and Matthew reflects on how the cost of living crisis has impacted the business.
“Every aspect of running a business is now costing more … We recently reflected on the current cost of living for our team members and gave them a pay rise that matched the increase of living. Everything has gone up – from the cost of sending out our parcels to our accountants.”
It’s not just selling books that gives Queer Lit its reputation for being an LGBTQ+ safe space. After collaborating with Feel Good Club, the two venues host a gritty book club each month, with titles being sold at cost price.
Customers also have the chance to ‘pay it forward’ for those who may not be able to afford the titles, as well as helping Queer Lit donate approximately 100 LGBTQ+ books a month to schools across the UK as part of their ‘Free Books For Schools Programme’.
However, the current climate means these selfless and community bonding activities may have to be scaled back. “Our business was created to support our community with forms of activism as well as being a safe space. Some of these activities had to be cut back due to expenses,” says Matthew.
“No one here’s asking for a handout. We just don’t want everything to always be an uphill struggle. With the Government’s current views on LGBTQ+ rights, I can’t see much support from them to ensure the survival of spaces like ours.”
Hackney Showroom – Kings Crescent Estate, East London
A staple in London’s creative scene, Hackney Showroom delivers spell binding theatre alongside enriching community building, culminating in a unique excellence that is hard to match.
Co-Directors Sam Curtis Lindsay and Nina Lyndon explain to GAY TIMES what the space means to them.
“We’re unique – we’re a hybrid between an arts organisation that develops and produces live shows and a grassroots community space … the one thing we love the most is the moments when the two strings of our bow sing together. When our experimental, queer and left field artists share their work with our over 60s lunch club or our family audiences, that’s when it feels really exciting.”
With the venue offering community care as well as a space for LGBTQ+ creatives to explore and perfect their craft, we wanted to know if this came with unique challenges when it comes to the impact of the cost of living crisis.
“Our heating bill has gone through the roof and costs for everything have increased,” they explain. “At the same time, competition for funding is more intense than ever, making it hard for us to make ends meet. Part of our remit on Kings Crescent Estate is to provide solutions for local residents and we’ve just launched a Cost of Living Fundraiser allowing those in need on our estate to apply for a £20 shopping voucher this winter.”
Hearing the work that the team do at Hackney Showroom is a breath of fresh air, and a reminder of how integral queer spaces are – not just for LGBTQ+ people – but everybody in the wider community who can benefit from their care.
Looking ahead, Sam and Nina share why LGBTQ+ artists are shaping their programme for 2023.
“We are back in 2023 with three shows by LGBTQ+ artists. Tomorrow Is Already Dead, a subversive, Bond-inspired musical from Ms Sharon Le Grand; The Legends of Them – a new high octane theatre show with music by actor and former reggae legend Sutara Gayle; and our award-winning, groundbreaking show, BURGERZ by Travis Alabanza is returning to the Southbank Centre in March. Our goal is to hit the ground running, producing inclusive, radical, innovative performance while supporting our local community.
Alim Kheraj, author of Queer London, a guide to the city’s LGBTQ+ present and past, shared his thoughts on what the biggest threat currently is to LGBTQ+ spaces across the UK.
“I think currently, the biggest issue is the cost of living crisis. I have spoken to venue owners who have expressed concerns about rising costs, as well as debts left over from the pandemic. I think with that comes a rise in rent, as landlords feel the squeeze when it comes to mortgages,” he says.
On the importance of maintaining our historic LGBTQ+ spaces, Alim shares his personal take on why it’s so integral for the future generations of queer folk.
“The more of these venues that survive, the less that LGBTQ+ lives and history is erased. These historic spaces give us a bridge to our queer past and our continued use of them connects us to our futures, while reminding us that against everything LGBTQ+ people persevere and survive. Spaces like the Royal Vauxhall Tavern contain so much of our history and act as a reminder of where we’ve come from and how far we still need to go.”
He adds: “I would say to the current Government that they need to do more. Without support – both financial and from policy – we risk losing some of the most important and vibrant spaces that many queer people rely on.”
London LGBTQ+ Community Centre
After opening as a pop-up in December 2021, the London LGBTQ+ Community Centre is now a firm fixture in the capital for the next five years. Acting as a sober, intersectional community centre and café, the space is becoming a hub for so many across the capital and the UK.
“I love the diversity of events that we hold at the Centre,” explains Tom Ana, Events and Outreach Manager. “Not just the variety of what’s on offer, but the fact that people from all experiences come together to share a space. It feels like a real community that brings people to one place, across generations and backgrounds.”
Having only opened its doors permanently in May, the cost of living crisis has struck at an already vulnerable time.
“Energy costs were our main outgoings last winter, so we’re very worried it might put us in a challenging financial situation. We’ll need to raise money, both through funding and donations, to support the Centre through this time. For a small organisation like ours, with very limited financial resources, such an unstable and volatile economic landscape can have a really serious impact on us.”
Tom adds: “At the same time, we want to be there for the community as a Warm Hub and keep our prices as low as possible. We’re trying to find that balance to support those in our community hit the hardest by the cost of living, while remaining sustainable for future years.”
The centre itself recently published their own research report titled A New Queer London, exploring the importance of queer spaces and community. From their research they found that 85% of LGBTQ+ people in London said there are ‘too few LGBTQ+ spaces in the city itself’, with 94% saying there are ‘too few spaces that aren’t orientated around nightlife’.
It also found that 61% of respondents wanted ‘to visit an LGBTQ+ space not orientated around nightlife once a month (or more frequently).’
Tom seemed optimistic about the future of queer sober spaces in the capital.
“The recent wave of newer spaces like Queer Circle, Fort and Joiners Arms gives us hope that we can continue building and thriving in London,” says Tom.
Despite times being tough for everyone, they recognise that financial aid isn’t the only way people can support.
“We take donations online, including the opportunity to become a Friend of the Centre with a regular monthly gift. Outside of donating, showing up to events, supporting the groups that use our space, or even holding your own event are all amazing ways to ensure our community stays full and diverse.”
With the cost of living crisis threatening every aspect of our lives, it’s important that we strategise and connect together as a community to support our beloved institutions. Whether it be through creating buzz online, attending events in person, offering up our services to help put on events or simply by word-of-mouth, our power in numbers is undeniable.
The historic decline in safe spaces across the UK is a stark reminder that our institutions, whether they be nightlife or sober spaces, offer each individual in our community refuge from a world that, at times, doesn’t allow them to be themselves.
As we move into 2023, let’s all remember how important these spaces are for our community, and do our very best to support them every step of the way.