XXL BEACON is the new multi-purpose project being planned and developed by the team at leading gay club XXL at its location in Southwark, south London, to celebrate, showcase and support the LGBTQ community. It’s a collaborative and multifaceted proposal to create a unique LGBTQ centre in the heart of London. David Bridle lays out the blueprint and talks to XXL’s James McNeill about the ambitious plan and how Boyz readers can lend their support to it and help the campaign calling on Southwark Council and the London Mayor to back the innovative venture.
Headed by XXL’s owner Mark Ames with experienced creative director Steven Jackson-Winter, the vision and mission for XXL BEACON is to provide a space that celebrates, showcases and supports the LGBTQ community so that they feel a sense of belonging and pride in who they are. Here’s how the XXL team describe this unique LGBTQ community venture.
“We want to help people realise their potential by providing opportunities to socialise, learn and create, collectively contributing to the wider cultural sector and the well-being of the LGBTQ community.
“Britain has a higher proportion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people than ever before with 17% of Britain’s LGBTQ population living in the capital city. However, more than half of London’s LGBTQ venues have closed since 2006 having a negative impact on the LGBTQ community as a whole.
“A report from the University College London Urban Laboratory concluded that London’s LGBTQ venues are in crisis with more than half closing their doors in the past decade (127 venues in 2006 and just 53 in 2017) marking a loss of 58%. This has had a hugely negative affect on the LGBTQ community with more and more people feeling displaced and less visible.
“But the UK’s LGBTQ community is one of the most vibrant and diverse in the world with an estimated nine million gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender men and women making the UK their home. That community is – in part – made up of highly respected charities at the forefront of improving the nation’s sexual health, world-renowned music makers, theatre, dance, fashion, art and sports scenes, a vibrant night time economy and political lobbyists affecting real social change for all.
“However, to date there isn’t a dedicated LGBTQ space for that community that marks their extraordinary contribution to the UK in the way that the Jewish Community Centre London or the Black Cultural Archives have done so successfully in recent years.
“Evidence from the UK and internationally highlights increased levels of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and stress among people from the LGBTQ community, as well as wider issues such discrimination, loneliness and marginalisation.
“52% of young LGBTQ reported self-harm either recently or in the past compared to 25% of heterosexual non-trans young people and 44% of young LGBT people have considered suicide compared to 26% of heterosexual non-trans young people. The Gay Men’s Health Survey (2013) found that in the last year, 3% of gay men have attempted to take their own life. This increases to 5% of black and minority ethnic men, 5% of bisexual men and 7% of gay and bisexual men with a disability. The Trans Mental Health Study (2012) found that 11% of trans people had thought about ending their lives at some point in the last year and 33% had attempted to take their life more than once in their lifetime, 3% attempting suicide more than 10 times.
“XXL BEACON will work to address these negative experiences. XXL BEACON will work in partnership with leading well-being charities offering them regular space in the venue to work one-on-one with clients, conduct workshops and offer drop-in advice sessions. Whist the wider cultural programme will offer people the opportunity to create and celebrate through a variety of cross art-form projects. Collectively this will begin to address some of these negative experiences.
XXL BEACON will offer a home to the LGBTQ community to socialise, access advice and get support, in part through a collective programme of culture, community engagement projects and well-being initiatives; offered year-round. It will also contribute uniquely to the emerging cultural and entertainment experience in the railway arches near Southwark Street and Blackfriars Bridge, offering a space that is a ‘beacon’ for creativity and community.”
XXL BEACON will consist of four spaces:
Space 1: Club nights, Event, Performance – Cross art-form initiatives programmed by the LGBTQ community such as music, spoken word, self-contained festivals, comedy, plays, musicals, street art, dance, and non-language shows such as circus.
Space 2: Bar, low-tech shows – Bar and second ‘low-tech’ performance space will offer early-stage LGBTQ artists the opportunity to test/develop new ideas with small audiences.
Space 3: Community Space – Workshops, talks and well-being activities programmed with LGBTQ partners to offer a well-being,
community cohesion and support.
Space 4: Café and Gallery – A day time space for all offering ‘café culture’ as well as space for visual artists to exhibit contemporary art representing the LGBTQ community and work spaces.
XXL’s James McNeill talks to David Bridle about the exciting proposal to build an LGBTQ community centre in the heart of Southwark, about the challenging process they’ve faced to make it happen and the campaign they have launched to make London politicians wake up to the massive loss of LGBTQ social spaces.
XXL Beacon is one of the most exciting projects Boyz has heard about for the LGBTQ community for a very long time. Why haven’t the site developers jumped at the chance to help you?
During extensive talks with the developers over the past two years their enthusiasm diminished when it came to light that their overseas investors were based in homophobic countries. In one meeting it was said that they had a duty of care to their investors and what they would expect to be on the site.
You have some very exciting ideas like the LGBTQ museum, library and bookshop; the daytime cafe; performance spaces, a poetry night, the confidence building workshop, the advice services, art and dance classes and much more. It reminds us of the London Lesbian and Gay Centre in the mid-1980s funded by Ken Livingstone’s GLC, but in your case you have a funding model for it to survive without local government money. Can you tell us more?
Very simple, it will have two anchors on the site. The cafe bar and XXL, with the monies these generate it will allow for the space to be truly accessible to everyone in the community by waiving fees and directly employing the staff through the main company. It cannot survive on its own and would have to apply for funding. With this model it can be apolitical and nurture our community.
Can you describe in your own words what XXL BEACON will be like for the ordinary LGTBQ person seeking a safe and supportive social space, both daytime and nightime?
A warm welcoming series of spaces, that will be informative and accessible. For the more vulnerable in the community it is a safety net, where we hope they will find comfort and help. There are too many vulnerable people in our community which is very fragmented. Having a ‘Beacon of hope’ where they can turn to even in the darkest of hours is what we want to provide for them. It will also be a place for LGBTQ families, where love and acceptance will be the ethos.
You were very confident that you had long term tenure of the building from 2012 but Southwark Council haven’t backed you as an LGBTQ social space or even done an equalities impact assessment – which is basic – can you tell us more about the Council’s failure to support you and the LGBTQ community in Southwark?
Incredibly disappointing. In 2012 when we had our planning overturned that is when the penny finally dropped with us. We had issues in the old venue by a former licensing officer who raided us more than a dozen times. We really thought we had moved beyond that when we opened Pulse, but sadly there are those in a position of power that view a short term gain more important than the long term gain a business like XXL brings to the area. During the planning hearing the planning officers from Southwark and their legal representatives said to the adjudicator, “Do you know what kind of club this is?”. The lady was horrified by their statements, and asked them why they were doing the dirty work for the developers? We were told we didn’t fit in with the planning model. Why should we try and fit in with a planning model when the planning model should be trying to fit in with us, with an existing business and its client base?
Why haven’t Sadiq Khan and his Mayor’s office and his Night Czar Amy Lamé seen the opportunity and LGBTQ community social benefits of the XXL BEACON proposal and given you more backing? Have you been unfairly tarred by recent controversy?
When the developers first approached us in 2016 to tell us they were purchasing an interposed lease from Network Rail, and in turn would serve us notice, we contacted our legal team and from that contacted the Mayor’s office and the Deputy Mayors. I worked closely with our planning specialists Joy MacCoughlan and Andy Stallan from WYG Planning who won the planning case for us. They helped me put together a letter asking for help and pointing out the Mayor’s policies and the wider London policies including Southwark’s. They all sent a standard letter back saying it was not in their jurisdiction.
Amy Lamé contacted us as it had been passed to her department. We had a meeting with Amy and her assistant Ed Bains. Amy said that she wasn’t in a position to help, she had very limited powers and she could get all parties round the table to talk. We said this would be useful and if that could happen, she also mentioned applying for Community Assets status as she had assisted the RVT with this, and again we said if she could assist with the information on this. Unfortunately these suggestions weren’t followed through. I believe that Southwark just thought that XXL was some fringe gay event and they could easily sweep us out the way, after all they were receiving £65m under the guise of a payment in lieu of social housing being built on the site. The only way for the Mayor’s office and Southwark to finally listen to us was by placing the Mayor’s face on our Pride banner. They were more worried about his image than the loss of the last LGBTQ venue in Southwark which has a population of more than 80,000 LGBTQ residents.
I think people on the scene have unfairly tarred us. Mark deeply regrets his outbursts on social media, they were written in haste and anger and he made irrational comments that were wide sweeping. He has said that he should have stepped back from the situation and reflected on it, but his fiery temperament got the better of him. It is very easy to go on social media and spout venom about someone or a situation. I think we’ve all been guilty of that at some point in our lives. If we take a step back and look at what XXL has done for the community: Raised hundreds of thousands of pounds over the last 18+ years to various LGBTQ charities in London; privately supported members and staff who have had sobriety and mental health issues over the years; been there for our customers when they have hit a low point in their life and offered them a lifeline. We do this not because we want public accolade, but because it is the right thing to do, it is the humane thing to do. And that is one of the principle building blocks for XXL BEACON.
What can Boyz readers do to help make XXL BEACON happen? You want readers to sign the petition but do you also want people to write to the leader of Southwark Council, the Mayor Sadiq Khan and the Night Czar Amy Lamé?
All of that – we need to place pressure on Southwark and the Mayor’s office that this has to stop. London is being unwoven, the unique threads of fabric which make up London are being replaced by a homogenous stagnant blandness that looks lovely in brochure photos, but are lifeless spaces, bubbles of blandness which will slowly weave together until what makes London is finally sanitised. We would love to leave London with the XXL BEACON legacy that would benefit everyone in our community and beyond it.
“Enabling XXL to have permanent dedicated premises would provide a sustainable LGBT social space and
enable it to continue its fundraising contribution to the PTF and the other London charities that it supports. Please give XXL assistance to safeguard its long-term future. Thank you.”
Peter Tatchell, Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation
“Over the years, XXL has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds through charity events and donated much to the community through sponsorship funding of many
organisations. One of those organisations to benefit from XXL sponsorship and support has been Kings Cross Steelers Rugby Football Club. ‘Steelers’ was the world’s first gay and inclusive rugby club of which I was the founding Chairman. When I and other members of the Steelers go to XXL we always feel we are in a safe, well managed environment, regardless of whether we are there for XXL events or
outside corporate productions.”
Lord Hayward OBE