Link-UP: London’s Night Czar speaks to Croydon BID
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Amy Lamé, London’s first ever Night Time Czar, took the time to answer questions from Matthew Sims, Chief Executive of Croydon BID, in the first of a series of Web Link-UP interviews, and Amy gave us an inside look at what the GLA has been doing to help the Night Time Economy.
Amy said that she was first attracted to come and live in London because it was somewhere she knew she could truly be herself and live the life she wanted to live. She arrived at aged 21 and, in her words “It did not disappoint”. She worked at a late night café, then opened a nightclub, followed by an arts company, working in TV and radio, and so on.
She described that London as diverse and vibrant, and went on to say that there is something for everyone. She admitted that cities like New York, Paris and Berlin are brilliant, but she said that London has “that edge”. In her opinion, the edge that London has is our diversity, which she said “gives us a competitive edge but also a ‘vibe’ edge.”
She informed us that London is the number 1 Googled city for culture in the whole world and she thinks that one of the reasons is all the independent businesses that make our city; she said she is so passionate about the work they do to protect these businesses.
Further to Covid-19, she talked about the fact that London went from having a vibrant economy, with 1.6million Londoners regularly working in the night time economy (NTE) and a Night Tube service, and the NTE was growing faster than any other industry, to suddenly, everything stopping. She said that we basically went from ‘Hero to Zero’ overnight.
Since then, she’s been working with colleagues at City Hall, the police, transport providers and so on, to ensure that reopening happens well and sustainably; that it is safe for businesses as well as people, so they feel confident.
Amy said that she was out in Camden (her local area), Fitzrovia and Soho on reopening weekend (4th/5th July) and visiting lots of businesses and many businesses are getting It right: providing hand sanitizers at entrances, wearing masks and carrying out temperature checks. But she thinks that there is still much room for improvement. Amy recognises the expense of making even a small venue safe, which can cost £1,000 or more and the fact that the expense is being taken at a difficult time. She also understands how, after all the loss of life to this pandemic, that it may feel frivolous to want to go out for a drink. Yet she feels confident that people will want to support their local businesses and Londoners have an enormous amount of resilience.Having spoken to 1000s of businesses, she’s aware too that they have many concerns, but the issue of rent is a common theme. As she pointed out, if footfall is zero, then income is zero but the bills don’t go away.
One issue has been the lack of clarity in communication and mixed messages from the central government, which she considers to be understandable in some ways, in light of the way in which this crisis has unfolded. Yet, the fact of the matter, businesses were left woefully underprepared.
In response to the crisis, Amy said that the Mayor of London’s office has worked hard to increase the London Growth Hub to include more sector specific help, launched a “Pay it forward” scheme (a voucher system) to help ease cash flow for businesses and has been lobbying hard to Raise the Bar, which is a campaign launched and led by Andrew Taylor (Mr Fox) and Matthew Sims (Croydon BID).
Matthew Sims asked Amy what she thought was the single most important piece of legislation that could be passed. She replied that she has a list as long as her arms, but the ‘business and planning’ bill that is currently going through Parliament, related to ‘tables and chairs’ licences would be one.
Amy said that there needs to be much greater financial help for local authorities to help businesses. Amy made a convincing case for more public toilets; after all, many have been closed due to austerity measures. She said that it needs to be easier and more comfortable for people to go out. Also, there should be public stewarding, and a clear plan for who is responsible for ensuring people feel safe and can move around the city safely.
Amy believes that the 2 billion leftover funding from the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure grants, that hasn’t been distributed, could be used to untangle some of the red tape and support businesses. Matthew Sims told Amy about the fact that the Raise the Bar campaign was being renamed to Repurpose the Surplus for that reason.
Finally, Amy spoke about the fact that London venues, its cultural infrastructure and people are all crucial to the survival of the arts.
Amy’s enormous passion for London, for all its diversity, its arts and culture at its heart, its beating Night Time Economy and its people is clear and it’s no wonder that she was chosen as London’s first ever Night Time Czar.
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