If anyone knows a thing or two about nightlife – it’s Sacha Lord. As the brains behind The Warehouse Project and Parklife takes on his new role as Greater Manchester’s first Night Time Economy Advisor, we talk to him about the changing face of nightlife across Manchester.
How did you feel when you were offered the role as Greater Manchester’s first Night Time Economy Advisor?
It was amazing. It’s a real honour to be working with Andy [Burnham]. There are some really great people with a wealth of experience to help me, support me, and debate things because – believe it or not – I’m not always right [laughs]. I’m going around all ten boroughs meeting operators, meeting the leaders, meeting councilors because it’s not just city centre Manchester.
What does your new title mean and what does it mean for Manchester?
When you think about night-time economy, it’s when you go out with your friends for a meal, to the cinema, to a concert, or to a nightclub. We treat these things as our downtime – because of that we see night-time as a bit of fun and not that important, but actually, it’s the fifth biggest industry in the whole of the UK, and it employs around 10% of the UK workforce. Looking at those stats, it’s very important and Andy Burnham recognised that during the elections and he puts his full commitment behind supporting the night-time economy. If you go anywhere in the world and say to someone, ‘What do you think about when I say the word Manchester?’, everyone’s going to say ‘Football, music’; they’re the two things that we’re known for globally. Night-time economy is everything that happens between 6pm and 6am, so it covers the workers of the NHS, and people that work in hotels on late shifts; it covers everybody between those hours.
What does it mean to you to be from Manchester?
How lucky am I? I could have been born anywhere, but I was lucky to be born in Manchester. I’ve always supported Manchester because it’s given me some amazing opportunities; there aren’t many cities that would let me run a rave in a car park. I think the fact I’m from Manchester and it’s given me the chance to survive, and the chance to do well, is a big honour. I’m very proud to wave the flag.
Why do you think it’s important to look beyond the city centre when improving our nightlife?
There are good things happening in Greater Manchester. I was brought up in Altrincham, lived there all my life, and I remember when the Trafford Centre opened and Altrincham was killed overnight. For many years, you couldn’t go out in Altrincham in the evenings, then Altrincham Market appeared a couple of years ago. It’s amazing! There are so many cool, independent bars, and really good quality restaurants that are appearing all around. Of course, Bury as well – they’ve been awarded the Purple Flag. They’re the only borough that have that in Greater Manchester, and that advertises the fact that in Bury there’s an offering for everybody, and it’s a really safe environment to go out in.
Is your role intended to put restrictions upon people’s nights out?
No, not in the slightest. It’s actually to completely support. There are some great things happening at the moment, like The White Hotel in Salford, which is an amazing venue. I’m here to support the small venues, right up to the big venues. I think the one I was annoyed about, rather than sad, was Sound Control because that did close because of developers. I’m very interested in talking to developers and operators. It needs to be common sense – if you’re going to build a block of new apartments next door to a nightclub, then I think it’s completely down to the developer to ensure that there aren’t going to be any complaints about the nightclub, and to make people buying the apartments very aware that there’s a nightclub there.
Are there any other cities that you are looking to take inspiration from for the direction that Manchester’s nightlife is heading?
None at all. Manchester has always been stand-alone. We’ve always done our own thing. You know Manchester; it’s a different breed. We’re the best city in the country, so I’m not looking at anyone else. Greater Manchester is going to lead. I do take inspiration from perhaps New York, Berlin, but we’ve always done our own thing, and we’ll make our own decisions and go our own way.
What aspects of Manchester’s nightlife do you think are working well at the moment?
I’m delighted at Peter Street, because I remember when I was a kid, going out, I used to go to a place called Discotheque Warehouse and Peter Street was a hive of activity. Now you’ve got Albert’s Schloss, Impossible, Revolution De Cuba, BrewDog, the Radisson Hotel. It’s great to see all this happening again. The place I’m really excited about is Ancoats. When I owned Sankeys, you wouldn’t walk down Jersey Street to get to Sankeys. There was never lighting, there were syringes on the floor, everywhere was derelict, and then there was this weird, wacky club in the middle. Now when I drive round, it looks amazing. All these new buildings, all these new apartment blocks, Cutting Room Square with Elnecot and Rudy’s.
What do you want to see change for people working in the nightlife industry?
I held a consultation recently where I invited employees from our town economy to come and have a chat with me. We’ve started to talk about vulnerability leaving work during anti-social hours and we discussed mental health as well; it’s the culture of when you close a venue there’s a drink after work, which might be at four in the morning and then before you know it it’s seven in the morning. I’d also like to create something like a charter or a standard that responsible operators will sign up to, that the customer will know when they walk in – whether it be a sticker on the door, or an emblem on the menu – exactly where the tip is going, so there’s transparency. If the operator signs up to this, they’d adhere to the fact that they’d take partial responsibility to make sure the staff don’t feel vulnerable when they’re leaving.
What are some strategies that you’d like to see introduced to make nights out safer?
I’m speaking to Drink Aware at the moment and The Village Angels. I did a walk with the police a couple of Saturdays ago, 10pm until 2am in the morning. They do something similar to what we do at The Warehouse Project with The Loop. It’s like a safety haven, so if you’ve had too much to drink, you can just go and chill out in there for half an hour. It’s great because it saves the time of our emergency services and the NHS. I’d like to see them dotted around eventually, so maybe Peter Street, Printworks, Deansgate Locks, Northern Quarter, The Village, Oxford Road Corridor.
What are some of the key lessons that 25 years of the nightlife industry have taught you?
I failed all my A-Levels at school, so I think what it has taught me is that it doesn’t really matter, as long as you follow your passion and your dream, you can do things. I now have the UK’s biggest metropolitan festival. I’m a kid who flunked out the back door. I wasn’t kicked out, but I was an embarrassment to the school at the time, now they invite me back to give talks there. I also try to be nice to everyone. I think that’s important. I know everybody by name at Warehouse Project and I’ll spend time with everybody, whether it’s bar staff, or the cleaners, or the main act.
What do you think makes our nightlife here different from the rest of the country?
That’s very simple to answer: it’s the people. The atmosphere is electric because everybody’s out to have a good time. Mancs just go for it. I think certainly over the last eighteen months, we’ve really seen the Manchester attitude come to the forefront. We pull together in times of crisis, and we certainly know how to party.