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How Covid passports could deal fatal blow to Black nightlife venues

How Covid passports could deal fatal blow to Black nightlife venues
Nadine White speaks to nightlife managers about how deadline for compulsory Covid passports has left them ‘in limbo’

Already bruised from lockdown-induced closures, Black night club owners now fear vaccine passports could deal them a fatal blow.

On so-called Freedom Day, Boris Johnson announced that nightclubs will need to require vaccine passports by the end of September. Widely unpopular amongst many in the nightlife industries, the concept is proving perhaps especially so amongst the managers of venues frequented by Black customers, given the higher rates of vaccine hesitancy among these groups.

Fresh data from the Office for National Statistics has suggested that while hesitancy among younger age groups is decreasing across England, it is growing among Black adults.

Between 23 June and 18 July, 21 per cent of Black or Black British adults were hesitant to get a vaccine, compared to 18 per cent between 26 May and 20 June. The more recent figure, of 21 per cent, contrasts with 14 per cent of Muslims, and 4 per cent of white people in the UK.

Speaking to The Independent, Byron Senior, who runs Bojangles in Chingford, said he and many of his colleagues across the industry are “in limbo”.

“The passports will really adversely affect places like mine while many Black people do not want to take the vaccine due to historic mistrust of the government.

“I’m anxious, without a shadow of a doubt. We feel like you’ve been battered and bruised, we’ve lost income, we’re in debt and then the government has announced plans to roll out this new measure.

“I’m not even sure how to implement it; there are lots of question marks and it’s definitely going to affect my business. Will my security guards be expected to tell people they can’t come in? What happens if conflict ensues?

He added: “This will put more stress on our businesses after what’s already been a challenging period of closure. I haven’t had any guidance from the council about this; September is just around the corner. I’ve just got to wait until they touch base with me but it will be problematic, definitely.”

Bojangles bar, Chingford

For some clubs and venues, the road to economic recovery may be longer than desired.

Since reopening, people have been steadily returning to Bojangles, which has on average pulled in about 75 cent of its pre-pandemic number of punters – who have been “happy” to socialise once again.

Meanwhile, white people are also hesitant to attend his venue – but seemingly not because of Covid – which means an additional loss of income from this clientele.

“Slowly but surely people are coming back – there are those who are anxious about the pandemic and are staying away though,” Byron said.

“Whilst we’ve been shut down, we’ve put things in place to generate additional income. I’ve had to restructure the business; for example I’ve always had a kitchen on the premises but have had to really embrace the restaurant side properly.

“The difficulties for me, and it might be for our type of business, is sometimes there’s a lot of focus on the weekend economy. We haven’t got a drinking culture per se in the Black community, i.e. going down to the pub on a Tuesday. We are party people.

“It’s a predominantly white area and I’ve jumped through hoops trying to get more white people through the doors but there’s a perception that it is a Black place and they feel a bit uneasy about coming down. I’ve promoted Sunday roasts and different events to try and get them in.”

Michael Kill, chief executive officer of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), has said venues are fairly unanimously against the use of vaccine passports for entry.

“Eighty per cent of nightclubs have said they do not want to implement Covid passports, worrying about difficulties with enforcing the system and a reduction in spontaneous consumers, as well as being put at a competitive disadvantage with pubs and bars that aren’t subject to the same restrictions and yet provide similar environments.”

Deborah Ballard, who manages The Alchemy bar and restaurant in Croydon, said: “The Covid passports feel like an attack on the clubs, to be honest. It will impact Black clubs massively because there’s still a whole heap of Black people who don’t want to get the vaccine and uptake among young people is low too.

“It’s a massive curveball at not only the nightlife industry but also marginalised communities. A lot of my clientele are Black and haven’t been jabbed once, much less twice. They have cited things that have been done to Black people experimentally across history. Granted, many examples are from cases around the world and not just in the UK, but there’s valid concern.”

There have been numerous public health campaigns geared at encouraging vaccine uptake within Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, with prominent figures including Sir Lenny Henry, David Olusoga, Adil Ray and Beverley Knight all backing the cause.

“With working class people, Black and white, there is that suspicion of government but with Black people it’s deeply embedded,” Ms Ballard added.

The Alchemy manager went on to question whether the government’s hinting at a passports policey may be little more than a ploy to increase vaccine uptake.

“I suspect this is just a Boris-ism whereby he thinks a way to get young people to rush out and take the vaccine is by telling them they may not be able to enjoy clubbing, but then there’ll be a backtracking on it. I wouldn’t put it past him; he has a habit of saying things he either doesn’t mean or have any intention of following through,” she said.

Ms Ballard, who is currently taking event bookings for The Alchemy on a week-by-week basis to err on the side of caution, added: “But at the same time I’m worried about what we’re going to do – especially since nobody has a clue how it could possibly be enforced.”

One Black Birmingham-based promoter, who didn’t want to be named, told The Independent, his work, and by extension, life, feels like it has been put on hold.

“I’ve been scared that the government’s going to really push forward with the Covid-19 passports and force all the clubs and bars to refuse people who haven’t been double jabbed.

“This affects my livelihood and income; I’ve been calling the club I work with every week to check if they’ve had any information from the council about how this is going to work and, in the meantime, have had to delay planning events too far in advance, just in case.

“I’m even worried about booking for early September and whether anyone will turn up to their events.”