Drug abuse in the UK: a rising challenge to nightclub culture nationwide
In late 2017, many were shocked by what seemed like the abrupt closure of the Rainbow Venues in Birmingham; the night club spaces, which are reported to bring £2m annually to the Birmingham economy, were closed following the second drug related death in association with the venue in two years. Both of the deceased, Michael Trueman and Dylan Booth aged 19 and 18 respectively, were students studying in the city. These deaths have inevitably lead to the revoking of the Rainbow Venues license by Birmingham City Council, a decision which has been criticised by others in the local government and many throughout Birmingham and has sparked the hashtags #EducateNotRevocate and #SaveTheRainbow.
Since opening in 2004 the Rainbow Venues has offered the local community in Birmingham a designated creative space for dance, music, and drama performances in addition to offering a place for independent street food operators to flourish. This is vital not only for Birmingham’s sense of community and indeed its economy, but also in drawing young people to the city - be it to attend one of their three universities or to begin careers in diverse industries. Many are arguing that to overlook the Rainbow Venues value in this regard is short sighted and damaging for Birmingham as a whole.
Despite the validity of these claims it cannot be ignored two attendees of this club have died in two years; could the venue be at fault for this? Last year Fabric nightclub located in Farringdon in London was threatened with closure following two drug related deaths within two months. Both of the deceased were 18 years old and purchased the class A drugs which killed them on site. Following a long battle with Islington Council, Fabric was able to reopen on the terms of strict new licensing conditions - the minimum age for entry is now 19, security and personal searches are much tighter, and there is undercover surveillance within the club. As a result drug related incidents at the venue have dramatically decreased. Should a similar option not be extended to the Rainbow Venues?
Anne-Marie Cockburn, a mother who lost her 15 year old daughter Martha to a drug overdose in 2013, believes the answer is for all drugs to be legalised. Her argument for this is that legalisation would ensure the regulation of drugs, therefore protecting UK users. She argues that these measures would have made her daughter’s death preventable - along with many others. Ms Cockburn goes further to say that her proposed reforms would enable open and honest drug education in schools and would also have the ability to limit the power of organised gangs, telling the Guardian in 2014 “it’s about harm reduction”. Her campaign is receiving much support, most notably from other parents who have lost children to drug related deaths such as those of Leah Betts who tragically died after taking ecstasy in 1995. Many claim however, that these proposed measures are too extreme and will simply validate drug taking rather than regulate it.
So, should we educate or revoke? Matthew Phipps, who works on the legal team for the nightclub space, has said that despite tough security including sniffer dogs and CCTV, attendees will go to extreme lengths to bring drugs inside including hiding them in “intimate places in their body”. This assertion indicates to the wider issue that the UK currently faces with drug abuse and misuse along with binge drinking. This culture has cemented itself within the musical institutions that have brought much culture and diversity to our country such as Fabric and the Rainbow Venues - so how can we now go about separating them?
A statement issued on Facebook by the Rainbow Venues reminded supporters the major role which they played in the commercial development of this city, having “spearheaded the city’s recent underground dance [...] movement 13 years ago”, using profit to resurrect “redundant buildings” and regenerate the once neglected - but now flourishing - area of Digbeth. A similar argument was used in support of Fabric last year, a case where drug related incidents were more extreme and frequent and where it was shown that security had failed to meet necessary standards.
The Public Health department of Birmingham City Council is “not supporting a revocation of the licence”, and has offered to work with The Rainbow Venues “in a collaborative way”. Indeed, there seems to be an understanding emerging that these incidents cannot be wholly blamed on the venues in which they happen and that honest and open dialogue about drug education and prevention must begin in order to prevent such tragic deaths. It raises the question; rather than revoking the licences of economically necessary businesses, should we not instead prioritise education and security measures that would ensure long lasting change and the preservation of our creative cultures?
To support the Rainbows Venues appeal you can sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/councillor-alex-buchanan-save-the-rainbow-venue-s-birmingham?utm_medium=email&utm_source=petition_signer_receipt&utm_campaign=triggered&j=184438&sfmc_sub=226169805&l=32_HTML&u=34203740&mid=7233052&jb=717685
Or donate to them directly here: https://www.educatenotrevocate.com/