Gentrification is the process of renovation of deteriorated urban districts by influx of more affluent residents; this is typically the result of increased interest in a particular environment by property developers. In England, the term ‘Landed gentry’ originally referred to the social class of land owners who could live entirely from rental income.
In 1964, British sociologist Ruth Glass coined the term ‘gentrification’ when describing the influx of middle-class people superseding lower-class working residents in urban neighbourhoods, alluding to London and its districts such as Islington.
“In the epoch of neoliberalism and corporate elites, entertainment is being privatised, and will increasingly take place with gated communities, owned and rented out by largely foreign investors.”
Due to their panache, attraction of business, and low crime rates, bohemian communities often find themselves the victims of these developments, which set out to relay infrastructures to create attractive environments for wealthy home-seekers. This, in-turn, pushes migration into newly developed flats and housing.
Modern day gentrification not only adopts the same model of the wealthy replacing the not-so, but increasingly threatens to devoid the UK of its cultural appeal. London alone is home to 857 galleries, 215 museums, 320 live music venues and 241 theatres, with 80% of visitors outlining ‘culture and heritage’ as the reason for their visit (London Assembly, 2017).
Music and club culture especially has suffered at the hands of renovation over the past decade, with the number of nightclubs across all of London’s local authorities decreasing by 50%, according to Mayor Sadiq Khan. Research by the London Assembly also suggests that of the 430 music venues that traded in London between 2007 and 2015, only 245 remain open.
Bagley’s Nightclub: then & now.
According to the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), there were 3,144 clubs across the UK in 2005, compared with the staggeringly low 1,733 that stood as of 2015; this is now less.
“Opening another Pryzm is a lot safer bet for profitability than another Dance Tunnel if your target market is yuppie IT consultants who have just been priced out of Clapham.”
“It’s all about property development”, Irvine Welsh, author of ‘Trainspotting’ and ‘Ecstasy’, told the Guardian last year, “In the epoch of neoliberalism and corporate elites, entertainment is being privatised, and will increasingly take place with gated communities, owned and rented out by largely foreign investors.
“The cities need to be kept as sterile and unthreatening as possible for the new overseas owners of them, who can then get trashed behind closed doors or in the mini-club facilities built into their apartment complexes.”
Although there have been several factors at the hands of the UK club scene’s cultural demise; the likes of drugs, increasing licensing fees, and complaints from surrounding residents and local councils, gentrification appears to have played a direct role in the closure of many beloved clubs across the country, in London especially.
Timeline: London clubs that lost their legacy to renovation
The most recent club to lose its longstanding cultural heritage at the hands of property developers is Sankeys Manchester.
“Anyone who was a regular or involved with the club was sad to see it close. It was a clubbing beacon for Manchester.”
Playing a key role in the industrial revolution, soap manufacturers ‘Sankeys Soap’ opened at the Beehive Mill in 1824, however it wasn’t until the nineties that it became pivotal to another revolution – rave.
Andy Spiro and the late-Rupert Campbell transformed the basement of the mill into a club and live music venue in June 1994, but nearly went bankrupt only six months after opening. In 1998, under threat from financial problems, Sankeys Soap was forced to close for the first time.
Two years later, however, business partners David Vincent and Sacha Lord-Marchionne revived the club, addressing the financial issues which had thwarted its previous owners. After six years playing host to some of the most pioneering nights in the underground scene, the club closed again in 2006.
Later that summer, the club reopened under the shorter name ‘Sankeys’, governed by David Vincent and original owner Andy Spiro. In 2010, after making numerous changes, including dynamic ceiling lighting and barcoded entry system, the club was voted number one club in the world in a DJ Mag poll. Ex-resident and WHP DJ Luke Welsh said:
“Anyone who was a regular or involved with the club was sad to see it close. It was a clubbing beacon for Manchester.
“Sankey’s was my first established residency with MCR based tech-house label, Haus22 records, and I had some stand out moments as a DJ there. Playing a three hour set to a packed Spektrum at The Martinez Brother’s Tribal Sessions being one of them.”
After closing once more in 2013, after David Vincent had initially stated he wanted to focus on his Sankeys Ibiza offshoot in Playa d’en Bossa, the Manchester club reopened in January 2014.
Although the club has spent its existence closing and reopening as a result on financial problems, the permanent, unprecedented cessation in January of this year, due to the building being purchased by property developers Delancey, has left a sour taste in the mouths of DJs, promoters, and ravers across the country.
Media and Communications graduate and avid club-goer, Katie Rattigan, believes that although Sankeys had sold out to “mainstream rubbish”, it was disappointing to see the club close to make way for more overpriced flats.
“I was definitely disappointed by it being sold as I spent a lot of my teenage years in that place and I loved it.” She said. “These nightclubs that are being sold and turned into flats have a longstanding cultural history and define the Manchester nightlife scene that people travel from all over the world to experience.”
Referring to Sankeys at the peak of her attendance, Katie said: “I just loved how everybody was everybody’s friend in there, everyone looked out for one another and it was the same people in their week in week out so I made some amazing friends.”
Although Delancey declined to comment on purchasing Sankeys, I did speak to property developer David Topham, Chief Executive of CTP Ltd, who told me that my inquiry put a “wry smile on his face.”
“Economics is where you need to look for answers. It is a lot more complex than the simplistic assumption that developers only do something for profit, or that redevelopment or change of use is only due to one use being able to outbid the current use [of the property].
“The issue is the cost of maintaining Listed structures for relatively low value uses. What is the community value of Listed and historic buildings being preserved by commercial initiatives when no public funding is available? Is the current use a sustainable use from a security and neighbour point of view? There are others [to consider].”
Another advocate of gentrification or “just a shift in the way an area behaves” is business and property writer Simon Binns, who responded to the closure of Sankeys in January with an article declaring “Cities change and so do we – so get over it and make Manchester better.”
Binns believes the term gentrification itself is banded around in different ways, with both positive and negative connotations. “To some it’s seen as a good thing, an improvement to an area that is perhaps in dire need of redevelopment, to others, I suppose it signifies the end of something good, or raw, or real and the beginning of something fake and shiny that perhaps has less value than what had been there previously. I see it as a positive thing on the whole though.”
In the article, posted January 13, Binns stated that the closures of clubs such as Sankeys is ‘not sanitation, but progress’. “I just think that things move on” he says, “places change, people change, things change; the way people interact with cities changes and what they want out of a city changes.
“There’s naturally going to be a bit of nostalgic wistfulness when somewhere that was so important, so prevalent and well-known 20 years ago closes, but when it does you have to ask why? It’s not necessarily a bad thing or for bad reasons.
“I think there’s a certain sense of irony about the fact that Tom Bloxham from Urban Splash has ended up buying a place that he probably went clubbing in 20 years ago [Sankeys]. He’s a personified example of change. He drove change in Manchester through culture and then eventually became a property developer.”
Alluding to Sankeys’ Ibiza offshoot, Binns says that the renovation of these buildings does not mean the death of club culture in itself, but rather closing the chapter of a period of time and paving way for new opportunities.
“You have to look at the way clubbing has changed. The Warehouse Project is an interesting example; it arrives for three months, does massive nights and then just goes away again. It doesn’t exist throughout the year because there’s probably not enough demand for it, or they know they don’t need to.
“They have a relationship with their audience which is purely based on their need, and when that stops, they’ll probably stop; the same as Sankeys I suppose.”
Contrary to the beliefs of the The New Music Group, a discussion group dedicated to underground music, Binns said: “Clubs close for one of two reasons, A) they’re shit, or B) people don’t want to go them anymore.
“Whether you own nightclubs, pubs, fucking go-karting tracks, whatever, it doesn’t really matter. If you’re doing something and it isn’t what people want, you’re going to struggle. I don’t think gentrification is the issue, it’s more to do with if you’re offering what people want.
“I don’t think people building flats nearby will harm clubs, if anything it should be a good thing. You’ve got a whole new audience on your doorstep haven’t you? Surely? If you’re giving them what they want that is, if you’re not it doesn’t really matter where you are, you’re going to struggle.”
Here more from my interview with Simon below:
On the other side of the issue is the underground music community. In a poll I conducted in the New Music Group, 72.9% believed gentrification to have played a significant role in the closure of so many clubs across the UK, 26.3% believed it to have played a role, but that other factors were equally to blame, and just 0.08% believed it to have played no role in the closures.
“Cable was widely loved, now it’s a fire escape for the new London Bridge station.” said Tom Pardhy, founder of ‘We Concur’, a night dedicated to ‘exploring the darker, emotive side of experimental House and Techno.’ “It’s worth noting that there were four architectural options that could have been picked, only one of those options would have resulted in Cables closure, and that’s the one they chose.”
DJ and Producer Jeremy Wright, co-founder of CULT and Mayday, believes “[Gentrification] is definitely an issue, but there are so many more factors to consider – lower bar spends, destructive licensing, house parties, cuts in council funding, wealth of external promoters, rise of festivals, fatal managerial mistakes, war on drugs etc”
University of Bristol student Henry Cooksley, who also volunteers at Effective Altruism Bristol – ‘a philosophy and social movement that applies evidence and reason to determining the most effective ways to improve the world’ – believes that “opening another Pryzm is a lot safer bet for profitability than another Dance Tunnel if your target market is yuppie IT consultants who have just been priced out of Clapham.
“I’ve used London examples but the pressure that property prices puts on arts and small businesses can be felt across the country. It’s not a coincidence that the cities feeling the strain are our most vital, energetic cities – everyone wants to live there for a reason.”
From the research I have conducted, it is clear that gentrification is a hotly disputed topic in terms of its impact on contemporary UK culture; Club owners, DJs, and the majority of the music community believe renovation to be having a negative influence, whereas property developers and business entrepreneurs beg to differ.
Although the latter claim that replacing venues of cultural importance with new prospects is productive for society, I think it’s fair to say that the way the issue is approached is not exactly commendable. A dagger in the heart of the music community, not to mention the staff a club’s closure effectively puts out of a job, what does the future hold for the UK’s nightlife? A Tiger Tiger on every corner? The demise of our underground music culture? Over to you, Sadiq and Amy.