Culture Q&A

London’s night mayor Amy Lamé on drugs, developers and diversity

Courier met London’s newly appointed Night Tsar to ask how she’ll tackle the problems facing the capital’s night life scene.

6 Jan 2017

In November 2016, London Mayor Sadiq Khan appointed Amy Lamé as the city’s new ‘Night Tsar’. It was a relatively cheap way of landing a few good headlines amid the mournful clamour following the closure of the nightclub Fabric and also an easy notch on the achievements list for his tenure as mayor.

The future of London’s night time economy is looking wobbly as the city gentrifies across virtually every postcode inside Zone 3 and new buildings are sprouting upwards in almost every corner. While most people agree that the night time economy adds to London’s cultural worth, no-one wants to live next door to a nightclub.

Courier met Lamé, one month after she was appointed to the role, at a construction site in Soho where the plan is to refurbish and reopen the iconic 12 Bar Club alongside a new 2,000 capacity venue. Wearing the regulation combo of hard hat, high viz jacket and steel toe-capped boots, Lamé talked about balancing the needs of developers and ensuring that London is protected from having its raw and real night time heart ripped out.

Courier: Cooperation with developers has helped get this Soho project off the ground. Is this the key to unlocking London’s night time economy?

Amy Lamé: I think it’s absolutely vital. Having good relationships with the developers, with the councils, police, planning, licensing – all different parts of placemaking that have been quite disparate in the past – and bringing them together and creating a common vision.

This is a good example. It might be a model for how we can work towards a 24-hour London.

Some developers would rather build flats than clubs. How can you protect venues like Corsica Studios in Elephant and Castle, which is now having homes built opposite it?

Take the situation with artist studios. [Developers] build a block of flats, people think it’s a cool, happening area to live. Then they realise the artists are up painting until 2 o’clock in the morning, playing music. They make a complaint to the council and the studios get shut down.

‘Agent of Change’ is a bit of legislation, it’s actually in Sadiq Khan’s mayoral manifesto, that puts the onus on the developers changing the makeup of that neighbourhood.

With Ministry of Sound, the developers [building flats nearby] added extra double glazing. It’s often not expensive or difficult to achieve these things; it’s just about having a law that requires them.

Was it really that important that Fabric stayed open?

It’s great news that Fabric has reopened – I think everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The conditions put on Fabric are [ones] they feel confident they can achieve. They wouldn’t have signed up to something they couldn’t do. If people really love Fabric and want Fabric to stay open, they need to support the owners in their vision for keeping it open too.

What about drug testing in clubs?

I met with the night mayor of Amsterdam, [who] was telling me about what they do with testing and setting up neutral zones. You bring [the drugs] during the day, some are tested then and there and sometimes they have to send it away to a lab.

Will we see that here? There’s a pilot scheme in Manchester that I’m watching very closely. I’m open to having a frank conversation about drugs.

How can you make sure London’s night time venues continue to attract the city’s diverse population?

We need forward-thinking promoters that actually want to reflect the diversity of London. For my club, Duckie, which I started 21 years ago, we did look around and say there are too many white people here. It’s not reflecting the London we know and love. So we’re working with producers from the QTPOC [queer trans people of colour] community on a series of events at Rich Mix [cinema in Bethnal Green].

How will you define success in your role?

A 24-hour London that’s balanced for every Londoner’s needs, whether you want a good night’s sleep or to rave until 5 o’clock in the morning. We’ve got a great night time economy, but I’d like to take the conversation beyond economy to thinking about culture.