One of the largest and most beloved gay nightclubs in London faces closure in just three months. It’s in order to make way for luxury flats. Promoters of the club, XXL, are calling it an act of ‘social cleansing.’
XXL, the biggest bears night in London, has been a fixture of the capital’s clubbing scene since 2000.
The club pulls in over 2,000 every Saturday, but developers have given it until September to evacuate its home. The move could might see 40 people lose their jobs. One local councillor says the closure threatens to further ‘erode’ LGBTI culture in the city.
XXL is a bi-weekly club night hosted at Pulse. Promoter Mark Ames launched XXL in 2000. It moved to Pulse in 2012.
However, Ames says the threat of closure has loomed over the club since it relocated to its new home.
Developers submitted a planning application to convert a patch of Southwark in south London into towers rising to 34 storeys high. Each will contain 489 apartments, a hotel, offices, and shops, developers Native Land said.
The arches under Blackfriars Bridge, as well as the adjacent Ludgate House and Sampson House sites, were applied for by the Carlyle Group in 2012.
But Native Land, backed by investors from Malaysia and Singapore, then bought the site with planning consent in 2015, a Native Land spokesperson told Gay Star News.
Earlier this year, this ‘rang some alarm bells’ with Southwark councillor Victor Chamberlain who realized that this included the railway arches where Pulse and XXL call home.
In April, Chamberlain raised his concerns to Southwark Council, calling for increased protections for LGBTI spaces in South London.
Despite several failed legal attempts by Pulse, which is run by A&M Leisure, to stop the closure, Native Land issued the group an eviction notice on 24 June. It gives the group just three months to get out.
‘A real loss for our community’
‘There are very few LGBTQ spaces in the borough,’ Chamberlain told Gay Star News. ‘It’s become apparent that the club will not be able to stay in its current location, sadly.
‘I got an update this week confirming that the site has got planning permission, which is from 2012. We’re actually quite a few years behind in trying to save it.’
Native Land gave notice to current tenants, including Pulse, in what is called a vacant development process. ‘That basically is a way that the developer can get the current tenants, aka the club, to leave the premises, which is looking to happen in September,’ Chamberlain said.
‘I’m really concerned. LGBTQ spaces have dropped by two-thirds on the last decade. XXL is a really iconic, valued space for many people in the gay community and there’s nowhere quite like it in London and the UK.
‘This would be a real loss for our community if we can’t find somewhere for XXL to survive.’
‘Erosion of our culture’
Chamberlain pointed to ‘gentrification actually eroding LGBTQ safe spaces’ as a foe to the urban queer community.
‘We need to be mindful and protecting of the LGBTQ communities, and part of that is promoting and protecting spaces where they can be safe and come together.
We’ve been working w/ XXL for 2 yrs to challenge decision made by @BorisJohnson and secure its future- inc looking for new premises, lobbying @lb_southwark + offering support/advice to the XXL team. We ALL have a role to play in saving our #LGBT+ spaces. https://t.co/Iy93dexly8
— Amy Lamé (@amylame) June 28, 2019
‘If we don’t give this the due attention it needs, we are gong to see an erosion of our culture.’
XXL co-promoter James McNeil told The Guardian: ‘It is like we have been socially cleansed of LGBT venues.
‘We are one of the few venues serving the 30-plus community. There are people who haven’t come out who will go there because it is a safe zone.’
‘Save our scene’
In a public statement posted on Twitter, Mark Ames gave a lengthy account of the years of legal battles between Pulse, Native Land, and Southwark Council.
— XXL London (@XXLLondon) June 28, 2019
‘We are the only gay venue in Southwark,’ he said. ‘When XXL opened in 2000, there were six healthy LGBTQ+ venues, all have closed down due to development.
‘Southwark has the second highest population of LGBTQ+ people in London.
‘This is a clear case of homophobia and Southwark have sold us out for £65 million [US$82,697,680].’
What will London look like in 10 years?
One person who values XXL is Hamish Cropton*. The 25-year-old based in south London is a regular at the club and told Gay Star News the closure would be a ‘major blow’ as XXL is ‘an essential leader in the world of London LGBTI fetish super clubs.’
Similarly to Chamberlain, Cropton pointed towards the city’s gentrification as cause for concern for LGBTI Londoners.
‘It’s uncertain and unsettling to think what London might look like in 10 years time,’ he said.
Native Land responds
A Native Land spokesperson told Gay Star News: ‘The two tenants of the arches, UBM and A&M Leisure (which runs Pulse Nightclub), have been fully aware of the development proposals since 2014 and neither objected to the existing planning application at time of submission.
‘Native Land sought vacant possession of the arches following the expiry of A&M Leisure’s lease, to enable substantial works to commence on the development of the scheme.’
According to Native Land, A&M Leisure’s lease was extended to allow them to ‘trade as long as possible.’
But A&M Leisure contested the project going ahead, and Native Land brought them to County Court. ‘The judge ruled that the lease should come to an end and not be renewed.’
The decline of London LGBTI nightlife
The UK capital is famed for its queer nightlife. LGBTI hotspots exist in areas such as Soho, Dalston, Vauxhall and Clapham.
But these spaces are shrinking. A reported 67% of LGBT venues have closed in Southwark since 2006.
Overall, between the years of 2006 and 2016, the total number of LGBTI venues in the city plummeted from 125 to just 53.