Let’s save the RVT, and make the case that value is not simply measured in profit

The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is now officially too important to be considered simply as an asset to be sweated. The fight is now on to show that the free market should not always be totally free, and that there are more important measures of success than simply profit.

Last week we heard the fantastic news that the Royal Vauxhall Tavern has been listed by Historic England after a strong campaign by RVT future, supported by the local Labour Party, the Local Councillors, Lambeth Council and a broad community right across London, as well as right here in Vauxhall.

Amazingly the RVT is the first building to have ever been listed for its cultural significance for the LGBT community. EVER! And this shows how far the movement has come. It also shows a remarkable shift that the Tory Government didn’t bat an eyelid in listing it (no rumours of trying to oppose it came through via any channels to be me) so credit where it is due.

However its future is by no means secure and the fight to retain this iconic establishment as a living, breathing and working temple of fun will continue. As we have seen from various venues across London, there are simply not enough safeguards to protect sites against developers wishing to make huge profits at the expense of everything else. The Black Cap has huge ‘development potential as a residential site’ and the owners need only mothball the venue for a year to demonstrate it is ‘economically unviable as a business’ in order to change its use in planning terms and thereby give themselves a free run at building flats for sale at exorbitant prices. Residential development is now so profitable in part because the Tory Government have enshrined the right for housing developers to make 20% profit before things like affordable housing have to be considered. 

 

The Royal Vauxhall Tavern: how much is it worth?
 
Things for the RVT are slightly different but we are still at the mercy of the free (and becoming freer under the Tories) market. The Council owns the land around the RVT and thus it would need their consent for a large residential block to be developed. I’m pretty confident that for as long as Labour runs Lambeth, this will never be granted. The Council have also made the RVT an ‘asset of community value’ which means that should the site go up for sale, a community group must be allowed the time to fundraiser and bid. It also means that developers can’t simply open a wine bar or turn it into a Tesco metro, as the RVT is recognised as a leading cabaret venue. Sadly however the legislation remains a bit of a fig leaf, as there is no requirement to actually sell to the community group even if they do manage to raise the money. As with so much Tory policy, it’s a nice headline but the power and rights still remain with big business and big money.

The actual running of the RVT is also at issue and reading this recent interview in Boyz with the current RVT management who are working with the Austrian developers, the same management who sold the building to developers, you can see that the pressure is now coming to demonstrate that the RVT is not economically viable. Whether this is really the case, or whether this is the early ‘evidencing’ in order to change use, change planning and build flats regardless is anyone’s guess and the more cynical amongst us see quite clearly the tactics being displayed. Local campaigners are now lobbying Boyz to get the other side of the story in order to provide some balance. 

There is lots of talk at the moment about where the Labour Party sits on the political spectrum, but this principle is above party politics, beyond left and right. Some things are too important to be left to the free market, and the pursuit of profit should not be overwhelming in all cases. If the developers and the management do not feel they can make enough margin from redevelopment, or enough money running the RVT which remains closed much of the week, then they should sell back to the community and let them see whether they can run it as a community asset with a new business model not based on profit. Youth clubs and community centres generally do not run at a profit but that doesn’t mean they have no value. The RVT is more than just a business as Historic England have now formally recognised. Its value is social as well as economic. There must be a balance between the two.

There is also a lesson here for Councils such as Lambeth, who sold the property years ago for an absolute song. The ownership of land and buildings are the ‘means of production’ these days, certainly here in central London right by the Thames. Therefore the things communities value must be protected and enshrined so however the world or society changes, those commitments and protections remain. Once something is built and sold that’s it, and the RVT as an anchor in Vauxhall for the LGBT community, as well as its importance for the LBGT business community is too important to lose. We must fight, because once the RVT goes then the scene could go with it.

Cashing in on POP Brixton’s success and reinvesting it back into the Community

Raising our game also raises the value of the Borough. But at POP Brixton we are making sure that the value gets reinvested back into the parts of the community where it’s needed.

Last month Adidas came down and offered a great footballing experience to some promising Lambeth footballers. 100s of Lambeth’s young people got to test their skills out against some of the Premiership’s finest. Mahamed, 15, said it was “the best day of my life”. Loads of young people also walked away with new boots and kit, not mention a little bit of inspiration.

 But the giveback doesn’t stop there – Adidas will be awarding a total of £5,000 to local sports clubs Afewee, Streetleague and St Matthews and a total of £10,000 to schools in Brixton. The ethos behind POP has always been a business hub at the heart of a community. So the opportunity to get hundreds of young people into a place they may not feel is ‘for them’, and then benefitting afterwards, is one we have, and will continue to, fight hard for. The sponsorship has also meant that POP has been able to raise some much-needed funding to cover the costs of the build and balance the books for the affordable business space.

We all know that the success of Lambeth and improvements we have seen over the last few years have meant Lambeth is a more attractive location, and this in turn has been partly responsible for rising rents for both businesses and residents. However, what POP and the partnership with Adidas has shown, is that you can capture that value and make sure it is reinvested back into the community, rather than whisked away by those looking to make a quick buck. More of that please!

A Voice (and some skillz) for young Lambeth people

The latest tenant at POP Brixton is giving voice to Young People right across Lambeth with Reprezent Radio offering 100’s of young people the opportunity to get skilled, get a job and tell the whole of London about it!

Now that the commercial elements of POP are in, it’s time for the community organisations and start ups to arrive. This weekend Reprezent radio move in as part of this phase with their rent being subisized by the more commercial units in return for training and personal development opportunities for 100’s of young people from Lambeth. I’m sure they’ll have some fun too.

Reprezent 107.3FM is a social enterprise broadcasting which has been running since 2011 and is the only radio station run by under 25’s. Apart from run a radio station, Repezent train young people to improve their communication and interview skills, support with target setting, CV writing, sourcing and applying for jobs. The jobs will be across a range of industries, and vary according to the aims of each young people, and positions available.

Their commitments include work experience positions, internships, free advertising for youth focused organisations, playlist support for local artists, chances for Brixton residents to volunteer at the station, chances for young people to attend networking events and meet industry experts. Have a look here at what they do and sign up if you are interested.

A report from 2014 estimated the UK music industry as providing a Gross Value Added (GVA) of about £3.8bn to the UK economy in 2013, generating £2.2bn of exports and supporting 110,000 jobs. This isn’t just what artists earn but the jobs around production, marketing, sound engineering, promotion and publicity. Giving young people an opportunity to get some experience in the industry and the chance to work out what area they might want to work in later, as well as the holy grail “something on your CV” to make employers pick you from the crowd could be life changing. Every industry is competitive but giving that competitive edge to our young people is exactly what this Labour administration has to achieve.

The POP ethos was of a business community sitting within the wider community, supporting each other with those able to pay more doing so to support those that are just starting out or giving back to the community in other ways. Reprezent are a welcome addition to Brixton and Lambeth, at a time when the Tory Government of the day is putting the future for young people in jeopardy, I’m absolutely convinced that something which helps them shout about their cause whilst at the same time getting skills and career opportunities in one of Britain’s most successful industries is something which will give Lambeth young people are better shot at a brighter future.