Manchester night czar: night-time venues can revive high street

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

And the Lord said: night czar Sacha Lord discusses all things Manchester, including working with mayor Andy Burnham
And the Lord said: night czar Sacha Lord discusses all things Manchester, including working with mayor Andy Burnham
Manchester's night czar Sacha Lord would love to see the city’s night-time economy blueprint rolled out nationwide and believes independent venues can play a key role in saving the high street.

As reported by The Morning Advertiser ​(MA​), Lord and Andy Burnham – Greater Manchester’s first elected mayor – unveiled a comprehensive raft of proposals​ to regenerate the city region’s hospitality and night-time economies in late July.

Detailing changes to be implemented by April 2020, the blueprint covers safety, transport and cultural diversity within the night-time economy – which includes all activity between 6pm and 6am and employs around 414,000 people across Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs.

“I was absolutely humbled when the blueprint was presented at the Greater Manchester combined authority and by the response from the leaders,” Lord told MA​.

“When you’re looking at something over a period of time – day in, day out – it's just there but then the first time other people had eyes on it, once it came out, I was really humbled.

“Not just on a local level across Greater Manchester but UKHospitality came out and spoke about it – every single authority or organisation that I respect within the industry supported it.

“I’d love to see it rolled out across the country.”

And, according to Lord, the wheels are well and truly in motion to implement the ambitious and transformative pledges made in the Greater Manchester Night Time Economy Blueprint​ over the next eight months.

“I have already trialled a safety haven on New Year’s Eve, with great success, and we’re speaking with Wigan and Bolton – two boroughs in Manchester – where we’re very excited to be putting safety havens,” he explained.

“I said it in the blueprint – and people do debate me but people lose every single time – the traditional high street is dying. We know that, and we know the reasons why they're dying, obviously Amazon and things like that. It’s killing the high street so the night-time economy is becoming more and more important to prop it up.”

Sacha Lord (1)

Independent venues can revive the high street

According to Lord, one of the driving forces behind the late-night economy’s revival and stemming the tide of closures – which has seen respective 27% and 14% decreases in the number of nightclubs and pubs in Greater Manchester between 2010 and 2017 – is independent venues.

“I'm a big supporter of the independents – the venues that are run by people who really care,” he explains.

While Lord expresses concern that the ever-emptying high streets could see a return to “the mid-90s flourish of faceless, soulless bars​ that opened, the huge chains”, he explains that there’s an encouraging clamour for characterful independent venues from the public.

Having previously attributed part of the success of Parklife festival – which he co-founded in 2010 – to the event not being faceless, he believes a similar approach can yield success throughout Manchester’s night-time economy.

“It’s a good time for the independents. Just from purely a personal point of view, I’m seeing the independents now becoming a preference for the customer as opposed to the chains.

“People like to see a personality. People know when they come to Parklife that it’s myself and Sam Kandel – my business partner – who are behind it.

“I do interact with people on social media and it’s the same whether it’s a festival or a restaurant or a bar – people like to know that there are actual people who are behind it who do care, do listen and do try to better year on year, as we do with the Warehouse Projects as well.”

Manchester’s night czar highlights his old stomping ground in the city's suburbs as an example of the restorative impact independent venues can have on ailing high streets.

"The place where I grew up, Altrincham, in the late 80s was literally closed down because they opened the Trafford Centre – a huge shopping mall with free parking and everything,” Lord explains. “All of a sudden, business left Altrincham and everybody started going to the Trafford Centre. Overnight, what was a thriving, bustling town just became boarded up, there were antisocial behaviour orders – I think our absolute bastion of culture was a Wetherspoon.

“A visionary came along and did a deal with Trafford Council to reopen and reinvigorate Altrincham market.

“What it has now is a good, substantial food and drink offering – so you have loads of little independent operators in there with seating in the middle.

“It became so busy that other people clocked on to it and now there’s some amazing, independent, food and drink in Altrincham.

“What was derelict, only four or five years ago, won best high street in the UK in 2018.

“I'm very keen on that model – I discuss it wherever I go from borough to borough.”

The model that’s yielded success in Altrincham has had a similar effect on nearby Stockport, which is currently undergoing assessment for purple flag accreditation for excellence in the management of town and city centres at night – assessment Lord is confident will be passed with flying colours.

Sacha Lord - Town-hall

Backing ‘agent of change’

Between them, Lord and mayor Andy Burnham have also spoken out in support of the agent-of-change principal – something Lord describes as a “common-sense” approach.

“There’s a trend at the moment to want to live in the city centre. The problem with that is you move from a suburban area into a busy area and, all of a sudden, there is a bit more noise,” Lord explains.

“I’ve been an operator in Greater Manchester for 25 years and I’ve seen many an occasion where a good operator has been operating successfully for years then a block of apartments will be built next door,” he explains. “Just one resident can close a venue down by noise complaint.

“An example of that would be Night & Day in the city centre, which is a small venue with live music, a capacity of 100 people and some incredible bands have gone through there like Elbow and Doves. I think Elbow sing about them on one of their tracks, actually.

“Then some apartments opened next door and literally one person was making a complaint and it was a toss of a coin whether the venue was going to stay open or not. In my mind that’s not right, so I support the agent of change – it’s just a really common-sense approach that hasn’t really been taken up before and I'm a very big advocate of.”

Sacha Lord (2)

Burnham ‘really gets’ night-time economy

Asked whether of not he believes Greater Manchester’s first elected mayor Andy Burnham understands night-time economy, Lord is unequivocal: "An absolute straight ‘yes’.

“We’re very lucky that he understands. If you ask anyone in the world what Manchester is all about they’re going to say football and music,” Manchester United fan Lord explains. “Andy gets that. The first time I actually met him was when I put The Courteeners on at Heaton Park and he was just there as a gig goer. He goes to many live gigs – he really gets it.

“When it was announced that we were going to have our first ever elected mayor, I was very keen to start conversations with the three people who could have possibly got it – Andy won by a landslide. I told him the night-time economy is the fifth biggest economy in the whole of the UK and that’s really stuck with him.”

While Burnham made a promise to commit to the sector’s revival in his election campaign, Lord admits he never expected to be offered an advisory role at the mayor’s office in June 2017 – less than a month after Burnham’s election with 63% of the vote and winning the contest in its first round.

“Very sadly, within three weeks of Andy taking his role we had the incident at the MEN on 22 May,” Lord continues. “After that incident there was One Love with Ariana Grande – which was 50,000 people – but the week after that I had the biggest congregation of 18 to 23-year-olds in the UK – Parklife.

“What Ariana did was amazing on an international level with Justin Bieber, and the whole world was looking at that but I wanted something more localised, something more Manchester, where we acknowledged the first responders.

“Just by pure coincidence I had The 1975 – a Manchester band – headlining. I was speaking to them, and I spoke to Andy, and I said ‘let’s do a real Manchester tribute’ – which we did.

“Andy came on stage, said a few words and brought out all the first responders, the police, NHS – the doctors, the nurses – firemen, it was a real special moment.

“That’s when the conversation started and, on 6 June last year, Andy appointed me – I’ve now been in the role about 14 months.”

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