Creatives in Northern Ireland are working together to advocate for improving the night-time economy as part of a new organisation and campaign, Free The Night.
Dublin-hailing DJ Sunil Sharpe, founder of the adjacent Give Us The Night organisation, and Belfast-based DJ Holly Lester are among the volunteers leading the group, which aims to improve nightlife in Northern Ireland by making it more safe, progressive and culturally diverse.
The group was founded in April, after the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill was amended, to widespread disappointment from many in the industry, who thought the amendments were restrictive.
While pubs and bars can now sell alcohol until 2:AM - nightclubs are forced to finish by 3:AM, and this can only happen for 104 nights per year. This makes the opening times the most restrictive across both the UK and Europe, and its thought that these restrictions could lead to venue closures and more precarity on top that which the pandemic created.
Free The Night is aiming to push back on these amendments, looking to extend licensing, make sure the industry is prepared for re-opening, fight unfair restrictions, create safe nightlife environments, and improve infrastructure.
The organisers note that "restricted opening hours, less access to creative spaces, less creative freedom and a lack of creative infrastructure leading to restricted opportunities can all take their toll on the artist or industry professional’s career and wellbeing, leading to a large number of talent exports and increasing levels of creative drain in Northern Ireland."
Bicep spoke about Northern Ireland’s Licensing laws, saying:
"Having lived in London for 10 years, we've had a chance to experience 24 hour nightlife which we feel has been a massive improvement on what we experienced growing up in NI. It personally seems crazy to eject the entire city at the same time causing mass bottlenecking of everything from taxis to emergency services.”
Holly Lester also gave her thoughts on the necessity of the campaign, saying:
“We want to highlight the cultural value of these sectors and provide a better infrastructure long-term for those who work in the night time economy. We are tired of worrying about the career impacts that come with choosing to live in Northern Ireland and of losing our friends and colleagues to other more progressive cities. It’s time for some change.”
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Tope Olufemi is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow them on Twitter here
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