Monday, 29 September 2014

Please help get clarity on the future of the RVT

Please help get clarity on the future of the RVT

There's not many more wonderful or important gay venues in London than the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

In many ways it's hard to tell the history of gay and lesbian London without it. For sixty odd years the no bullshit fabulousness of its club nights – with its drag acts and theatrical performances – have been a kind of safe haven from the outside world for LGBT people across London, one of the handful of places in which the words 'gay community' makes sense. First, from its role in the sexual revolution of the post-war period, then its position on the frontline of the AIDS crisis in 1980s (Paul O'Grady, a regular Tavern performer back then, talks about this movingly here). It's recent cameo in the movie Pride is just the latest recognition of its status.

Today it's endured as a bulwark against the wanky nonsence of a lot of Soho; a place where you can see many of the same faces mixed in with the new each time you go, and probably the first place I felt at home when I moved to London a few years back.

All of which made me sad to hear and read that it might be at risk. What we do know is it's either been sold, or is about to be sold, to investors. Who exactly is unclear, but most likely from abroad.

One of its previous owners will continue to manage the place for now, and they've done an amazing job over the last decade to keep it thriving. But by all accounts the Tavern's long-term future is still unclear. There are still persistent rumours that it will eventually be torn down, transformed into apartments, a hotel, or otherwise sanitised out of all recognition.

Anyone who's been to RVT will know its location makes it prime real estate. Indeed sadly none of this can be stripped from the wider context of the creeping gentrification and commercialisation of a lot of South London, including parts of the gay scene. To see the RVT go the same way would be a real act of cultural vandalism. Sadly, as yet there's been a stony silence from the Tavern's new owners on their intentions.

So, a small campaign has started up to get assurances about its future, and to secure the Tavern as a community asset under the recent Localism Act. If successful with Lambeth Council, this last measure would give the community the right to bid for the Tavern in the event that its put up for the sale again. It's not impossible that some local group would come forward to bid for the place.

In the meantime, the questions that need to be asked and which many people are anxiously waiting the answers to are:

  • Who has bought the RVT?
  • What are the new owners' plans for the place both in the short term and in the long term?
  • Will they share those plans, or consult on them?
  • Can the new owners provide proper assurances that it will stay open as a gay venue, and true to its long history, for the long-term?
On all of these, there have been no answers. So if you are reading this and are as fond of the RVT as many of us are, please take time to either share this blog or ask the questions of RVT yourself via Twitter @TheRVT or email INFO@RVT.ORG.UK. And please push the issue to local politicians, media etc.

Again, this is not about denigrating the management of the Tavern, who have kept it alive and kicking over the years. It's just about getting clarity and assurances over its long-term future, and that any plans for it stay true to its character. If this were any other bar, we could all just find somewhere else to get pissed on a weekend. But the strength of the RVT is that it engenders greater feeling than that, and it means more than that – past and present. Those who go there aren't just its customers, but a community too, so we should act like it until its future is secured.

EDIT: Thanks to everyone who has helped push this issue. The RVT have now put out a statement in response. It's here: 

Good news that they're engaging on it, but sadly the statement is mysteriously silent on most of the questions people are asking. The most simple one being who owns the RVT and what their long-term intentions are. It's important we all keep asking that, which many of us will - this has only deepened the mystery for me, anyway!