WORDS: Alex Caslano
The message just doesn’t seem to be getting through does it? And it feels almost futile regurgitating it. Whether the authorities like it or not, drugs are part of youth culture and modern society - just like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. People have and most likely will always take them, whether they’re illegal or not. But even though recreational drug use is prevalent, there still seems to be a complete inability to grasp the social issues surrounding users and nightlife, as proved by the Glasgow Licensing Board’s short-sighted, irrational and profoundly damaging decision to slap The Arches with a 12am curfew last month. As a result we have potentially lost one of the UK’s most culturally important and iconic venues.
The shock announcement that The Arches is to be forced into administration followed weeks of speculation and an appeal from The Arches Board of Directors to turnover the venue’s crippling license restriction. But this story really began last year when Police Scotland attempted to impose sanctions on the club following the tragic death of an underage clubber. The venue then came under fire again three months ago when a number of punters were reported for “drug and alcohol” related incidents recorded outside the club. After a serious attempt to have the club closed by Police Scotland, the licensing committee decreed that: “The board was not satisfied that the closure order procedure was appropriate in this case. However, we recognise the serious concerns being raised by Police Scotland in relation to these premises." Cue a cautious sigh of relief from the thousands who attend The Arches each week, not to mention those who depend on it for their livelihood. Unfortunately, the conversation (or indeed, pressure) focused on the club’s future clearly rumbled on…
As most of you who are reading this will already be aware, The Arches is a non-profit organization which relied on its club activity to fund the diverse and vibrant arts, exhibition and theatre it supported. As Scotland’s biggest club, with a capacity of 2000, the revenue produced by its night-time programme produced over 50% of its annual turnover, funding arts projects such as the recent Behaviour Festival. With a 12am curfew in place, club events essentially become redundant, with the knock-on effects choking the entire operation.
Easy to understand, then, why the both the public and industry outcry after last month’s ruling was immense. With nearly 40,000 people signing a petition to re-instate the club’s license, as well as support from big name DJs such as Skream, Jackmaster, Erol Alkan, and Felix Da Housecat, there was real anger and disappointment amongst its patrons. Needless to say, this has been exasperated by the news The Arches is to go into administration.
“The closure of The Arches is a tragic blight on out city's cultural landscape and extremely sad for us and for all the music fans, clubbers and artists alike” Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle tell us, more commonly known as legendary techno duo, Slam. Promoting events at the venue for over 20 years, they will feel the full force of the venue’s administration, among many others. “The repercussions of this illogical decision by the powers that be will put Glasgow on the map for all the wrong reasons and damage tourism as well as the city's weekly night time economy” they claim. “The Arches should not be made a scapegoat and a pariah for society's shortcomings because the venue is the safest and strictest in the city - if anything it’s a role model of how the authorities think a licensed premises should be run.”
And it’s this theme of “scapegoating” which seems to be cropping up most in reaction to the unfolding drama. It’s hard to contemplate, but all this anguish has probably stemmed from one signature. Someone has potentially signed off one of the worst decisions in the history of licensing, signing away jobs, culture and heritage, all to make an example of a club which just happens to be the biggest and most widely attended in Glasgow. As people have been at pains to points out, you need only walk through the city centre at 3am to witness the real casualties of Britain’s drug and alcohol abuse (with most pertaining to the latter). In fact, it’s since emerged that the McDonalds situated around the corner from The Arches “was the subject of 200 police reports in 14 months”, while a man was also found dead in the toilet cubicles after taking an overdose (via The Evening Times).
Ironically, The Arches was probably the safest club you could visit in Glasgow, with dedicated medical staff, first aid rooms and stringent door checks all in place to keep clubbers safe. The venue was even awarded Gold Standard over six years by Strathclyde Police – an accolade which recognises safe and well-run premises. No other venue in Scotland has achieved this. Dean Zielinski, managing director at West Coast Event Medical Services and someone who has worked on site is particularly passionate about this: “I’ve been privileged and honoured to have worked alongside the entire team at The Arches. It opened my eyes to the night-time economy, and it introduced me to a team who provide endless and non-judgemental care – where patron’s needs are put before themselves and before the needs of the venue and license.”
Dean goes on to echo the notion of “scapegoating”, highlighting the hypocrisy involved with punishing a club, but ignoring larger events where people routinely take ill through drugs: “What about the festivals who see call-outs threefold and beyond within just a weekend?” he observes. “Is it fair to attack one venue - the one that goes beyond requirements and recommendations in providing a safe and secure environment to clubbers and visitors? I wish luck to the other venues that go beyond their duty of care, which will more than likely be in the firing line for a job well done."
So is this it? Can Police Scotland and the Glasgow Licensing Board really justify “cultural vandalism” and the loss of jobs through their delusional pursuit of public safety? And are their intentions really that noble? Those who take drugs will continue to do so – that is the reality. Drugs and alcohol abuse is an issue that needs to be tackled through education and regulation, and just suggesting that seems like stating the obvious. With regards to The Arches’ future there was a glimmer of hope today when John Swinney, cabinet secretary for Finance said that the government will do "everything in its power" to save it. Sounds promising, but be in no doubt, this is a moment of enormous gravity for Glasgow which resonates far beyond The Arches. The aftershocks are still to be felt.
There will be a Save The Arches Protest Lobby outside the Glasgow Licensing Board offices next week. Full info can be found here.