For this week’s LPS blog edition, we pass the baton to Ivan Cardoso, an innovative venue owner and promoter whose current project in Homerton is doing its best to excite and engage in the current climate… My birthday is on March 23rd. Instead of celebrating, we all sat at home as that was when the UK Government made all hospitality and other sectors to close to contain the current pandemic. Others and I fought, for weeks preceding this step, for clarity on what the plan was. As we kept ourselves glued to the daily 5 pm Government announcements, the voices pilled in, as the whole hospitality was at the brink of collapse. Those with profitable sites were left on their own for a while. Since then there has been government support (Furlough Scheme, Rent Moratorium, Eat Out to Help Out, and other initiatives) but some still struggle to maintain their businesses open, and many others have since closed down, creating a recession not seen since the 1930s.
Then it came July 4th. In an attempt to rescue the economy, hospitality businesses were able to re-open and operate at reduced capacity, as long mitigating circumstances and social distancing was being respected. This represents a myriad of issues, but many operators embraced the challenge and made it work. Some pivot their business and found success with off sales and drink delivery services. Others, with capital, remained closed until there were more straightforward guidelines and to see how others adapted their operations. We saw the rise of app ordering and the “death of cash”. We saw Soho being pedestrianised, alongside other parts of the country, providing a typical continental al fresco type of service. In Berlin, the traditional open-air experiences resumed, and, to a certain degree, normality was restored. Vilnius made their central plaza, an all outdoor space for a restaurant to add tables and revitalise their industry too.
Was with this in mind that The Old Car Wash in Homerton came about. An all outdoor space (partly covered) in the middle of Hackney. The aim was (and still is) to provide a safe space for those that don’t wish to be inside venues but even want to meet friends in a safe setting. True to be told we have been looking for spaces similar to the one we are currently using for a couple of years. As we were in the middle of a crisis, it was essential to have a venue that addressed the current constraints. The design had to take COVID into account and, more importantly, it had to make guests comfortable. The ability to serve quality drinks in a friendly, relaxed and friendly environment was the first thing in our minds.
The financial side of operating during the pandemic was always a risk – the project is self-funded and with some of our savings and the help of friends. We built the site in 5 days, and we were building it in unbearable heat – in true British style, the weather turned for the worse once we opened but, luckily, we are part covered. We got friends that lost their jobs to help us too and, we got friends that got their gigs cancelled to play some great music on site.
We accomplished what we wanted – create a space for individuals to forget their worries and meet friends. We made sure to plan for all eventualities, including the possibility of a being asked to close or in case myself or my partner got ill. But we also are very optimistic that the environment will change – despite seeing an increase in reported cases and a significant drop in deaths registered.
At the time of writing, we have another four weekends to go. Some genuinely great operators are taking all the necessary steps to make sure we don’t lose our social and human side. Being safe is essential – unnecessary risk should never be sought – but keeping our mental health in check is also necessary.
The future is uncertain; however, our industry will resume. Live music will return, and public confidence will also return. We are confident that we won’t return to the same models we had before, but, I’m sure we will return stronger and with an attitude to provide safe environments and fun spaces. Many won’t survive; many will be successful. Most importantly, customers will feel a big relief once they can live their lives to the fullest, and we provide a model that might help to reach that goal quicker.