Manchester’s night czar Sacha Lord, who learnt the ropes of Manchester’s evening businesses against a backdrop of The Smiths and the city’s legendary Hacienda nightclub, now advises Mayor Andy Burnham on issues relating to the night-time economy.
Lord canvassed Manchester’s three mayoral candidates to see if they would support a voice for the night-time economy after becoming irritated by the lack of attention paid to the sector.
“I was always slightly annoyed – our industry is the fifth biggest economy in the UK but it sometimes gets ignored,” he told The Morning Advertiser’s MA500 Manchester conference. “Sometimes the powers that be don’t recognise our importance.
“I was very keen to create a panel of like-minded people, including councillors from across all 10 boroughs and key stakeholders. For the past 11 months, we’ve had loads of listening exercises with employers in the night-time economy. From all of these, I’ve created our blueprint. My big priority for the next 12 months is safety.”
Lord believes the night czar model is one that can be rolled out across the UK, however, he explains that the pool of potential candidates for similar roles to his must prioritise those with extensive experience in the sector.
He added: “The person who takes this role on has to have a clear understanding of the night-time economy – it should be an operator, there’s no point appointing a councillor.”
Safety breeds confidence
According to Lord, the terror attack at Ariana Grande’s concert at the Manchester Arena on 22 May 2017 spurred the city’s authorities into holding more serious conversations about safety in the night-time economy and what could be done at a local level – especially with the UK’s largest metropolitan music festival Parklife taking place shortly after.
Lord explained that every time someone crosses the threshold of the NHS it costs £700 – a fact that inspired him to introduce a system providing more street-level help to those on a night out, designed to stop revellers overusing the health service.
Transforming high streets
In his role as night czar, Lord has focused on working with Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs to provide city-wide solutions to issues facing its night-time economy.
“I’ve met all the leaders and they all recognise the importance of the night-time economy,” he explained. “The traditional high street is dying so the night-time economy sector is becoming more important than ever – the culture sector as well.
He points to the three-year revival of Altrincham’s high street as a blueprint for success that struggling high streets can follow.
“When the Trafford Centre opened, it closed Altrincham down. A visionary called Nick Johnson reignited Altrincham market – it’s an amazing collection of really high-quality food and drink outlet. Altrincham last year won UK high street of the year award. Other boroughs are saying – ‘hang on that was dead’ and wondering what they can do.”
Return of ‘old-fashioned’ venues
“Each leader has their own views but there are some really exciting things happening in Manchester,” Lord explained. “It’s the most creative city in the UK, lots of great things come from here.
“Manchester is very neglected so we created our own entertainment – it’s in our DNA.”
According to Lord, “new shiny venues” are becoming less appetising to consumers with drinkers craving more characterful sites according to consumer research.
“Every single person talked about old-fashioned, traditional venues,” he explained. “We’re definitely seeing a sway, a fashion, towards the old fashioned. The days of chains opening soulless venues is coming to an end, the consumer wants more.”