Business management

Uniting Manchester’s night-time economy

As restaurants, music venues and bars across the UK went into lockdown, Manchester’s ‘night tsar’ Sacha Lord set up a virtual nightlife platform to help support the region’s night-time economy workers.

 And yet, in a bid to support Greater Manchester businesses affected during the coronavirus pandemic, that is exactly what he has been doing.

“In Greater Manchester alone we employ north of 415,000 people in the night-time economy. It is the fifth biggest industry in the UK, but it sometimes doesn’t get the support its due,” says Lord, who was appointed Greater Manchester’s first ever night-time economy adviser by regional mayor Andy Burnham in 2018. When hospitality became one of the first industries to close its doors under lockdown measures, Lord took a cue from Berlin in a bid to support those affected. “I’d heard of this initiative, United We Stream, where they had invited a DJ to play in a closed nightclub – the performance was free to stream, but they invited donations to help the hospitality industry. I thought: that’s an absolutely brilliant idea.”

Together with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Lord launched Manchester’s  United We Stream  platform on 3 April – and it’s had a fantastic response. “At first we didn’t know if anyone was going to watch, let alone donate. But we’ve now raised nearly a third of a million pounds.”

Over 12 million people have tuned in so far to watch performances including DJ sets from actress Maxine Peake and Funkademia, as well as cookery features from chefs such as MasterChef winner Simon Wood. Mental Health Awareness Week saw the platform stage a moving tribute to Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis with New Order, The Killers’ Brandon Flowers, Elbow and more lending support. The recent anniversary of the Manchester Arena attack was also commemorated by a memorable lineup including the Manchester Survivors Choir and the former Spice Girl, Mel C.

We have to think of clever ways that we can support the night-time economy and we’re taking learnings from Europe on how to do that

Sacha Lord, co-founder, Parklife festival and The Warehouse Project

For Lord, the platform’s first all-day Hacienda House Party also stands out: “1.5 million people tuned in that day. We crashed the website for 15 minutes, but it wouldn’t have been the Hacienda if something hadn’t gone wrong!”

Of the money raised via United We Stream, 70% will go towards helping the region’s night-time economy businesses adapt to social distancing and lockdown measures related to coronavirus, with applications now open via  GMCA  website. Applicants must be an individual or freelancer working in the cultural or night-time economy sector in Greater Manchester, or be applying on behalf of a local music venue, bar, restaurant or cultural organisation. The remainder of the money raised will be donated to Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Charity and the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s Charity.

Lord is also keen that United We Stream has a legacy beyond the pandemic. “Originally I thought that when lockdown finished, United We Stream would finish. But then Mike Ingall at Allied London got in touch and said that he wanted to donate a purpose-built recording studio for us to use when lockdown is over. So, now, we’re going to give local artists and kids who would never have been able to afford a recording studio in their wildest dreams the chance to get in there and use it free of charge.”


How will hospitality bounce back?

Lord is passionate about the ability of the night-time economy to help the wider business community bounce back. “Pre-coronavirus, this was more important than ever before because the night-time economy was propping up the high streets, which were dying away.”

Lord says his home town of Altrincham is a great example. After the arrival of out-of-town shopping behemoth the Trafford Centre rendered it “one of the most boarded-up high streets in the UK”, the reinvention of the historic Altrincham Market as a foodie hub paved the way for an influx of new businesses to the town. “Last year it was voted the best high street in the whole of the UK. That is a phenomenal success story in such a short time, showing how you can turn things around by working with the hospitality industry.”

Hospitality businesses in the UK currently have their sights set on 4 July, following a roadmap published by industry body UKHospitality, which sets out how reopening on this date might be achievable for some.

“The industry will bounce back – but its going to take time,” says Lord. He describes the government’s decision to advise the public in the early stages of lockdown not to visit bars, restaurants and clubs as a “knee-jerk reaction”, which left many hospitality businesses in limbo, fully stocked and fully staffed, with no revenue incoming.

“We’re now grappling with questions such as – if you could open a pub but at 50% capacity, what would that look like? The reality at the moment is that you would be making a loss. So, we have to think of clever ways that we can support the night-time economy and we’re taking learnings from Europe on how to do that.

“I think we have to have frank conversations about cutting through some of the red tape to support the industry,” he adds. “And I am hearing good noises about that.”

Whenever the hospitality industry is able to return in earnest, Lord is certain it will look very different. “The days of salt and pepper pots on your table are gone, and disposable menus are here to stay. And when businesses do reopen, we’ll be asking people not to pay in cash.” Lord says his own events will also see changes: “For one, when you’re queuing to go to the bar at Parklife next year, I know there will be hand sanitiser at the end of each lane.”

Supporting change

While changes big and small look set to impact everyday life for some time to come, Lord hopes there will be positive legacies emerging from this crisis – not least a renewed support for independent businesses. “People have woken up to the reality that we need to help these businesses, but also that small independent businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. I think we will start to appreciate shopping local more and I’m very confident this will spill over into hospitality.”

In Manchester, many small businesses have proven themselves to be real local heroes, he says. “When we went into lockdown so many local services weren’t prepared, through no fault of their own – and small businesses stepped in to help. Creameries, a restaurant in Chorlton, has now delivered touching on 60,000 meals free of charge to the most vulnerable people across the whole of the city region. Didsbury Gin also responded to a Twitter call-out to help Greater Manchester Police get the hand sanitiser they needed, pivoting the majority of its production to meet demand. And The Hut Group stepped up to accommodate officers dealing with coronavirus incidents who couldn’t return to their family homes, putting them up in their hotels. Manchester has truly proven itself to be a resilient city.”

So, as the country begins to look ahead to a tentative return to ‘normal’ operating rhythms, what is Lord most looking forward to? “I just want to sit in a restaurant, with people, and have a great meal – and, obviously, I want to put a party on. I think the first Warehouse Project back will be an emotional one.”

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