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Photography Stephanie Wilson

The Joiners Arms is coming back as the first community-run LGBTQI+ pub

We speak to the organisers behind the project

For almost two decades, legendary LGBTQ pub the Joiners Arms served as a hub on the Hackney Road where visitors could seek pleasure and take refuge until the early hours. Famed for its gritty decor and welcoming atmosphere, it soon grew in popularity and counted musicians such as Rufus Wainwright and Kele Okereke as fans. Three years on since its closure, work is being started to open London’s first community-run LGBTQI+ pub on its original site.

It’s the vision of campaign group Friends of the Joiners Arms, who have fought to keep the spirit of the venue alive since its closure in 2015. Initial plans for an LGBT venue on the site were debated last August, in order to extend opening hours to best reflect the original pub. Last October, the borough of Tower Hamlets recognised the group’s concerns and specified requirements for an LGBTQI-specific venue, with a 25-year lease and the crucial late licence.

The win came at a critical time for London’s nightlife, with 58 percent of LGBTQI+ venues shut since 2006, and Mayor Sadiq Khan’s announcement of an LGBT Venues charter for business owners. After a long campaign, the group are now opening the platform to the public. Two meetings will be held on March 10 and March 14 – open to anyone who wants to have their say on the development.

We caught up with Friends of the Joiners Arms campaigners, Amy Roberts and Peter Cragg to discuss their next steps, the importance of these venues and the (in)famous pub.

The original Joiners Arms was a legendary venue – why was it so special?

Peter: I think part of its appeal was that it was different to other places. There was an atmosphere inside the Joiners that felt exciting and safe and freer to experiment. There was also great music, some incredible DJ’s started there.

Amy: I remember when I first walked in 10 years ago, the atmosphere was liberating. I was at a period in my life where I was developing how I identified with my gender and sexuality. It felt like I could do that there. There was an energy.

“At the moment we have virtual or temporary spaces but it’s really difficult to wait and only be queer on the last Tuesday of the month”

What are your visions for this new development?

Peter: The idea is to have a space that is welcoming, accessible, weird and different. I would love to have events for older people, then afterwards, exciting music and an amazing party from which people are helped to get home. That sense of diversity and warmth, help and fun.

Amy: We’re not profit driven so we’ll be an affordable space, serving people who are often excluded. Also, a permanent space where I can walk in on a Tuesday after work, and not wait for a certain Tuesday of the month.

How do you hope to engage the local community?

Peter: This is the beauty of the Community Benefit Society model, as used by pubs such as The Ivy House in Nunhead, The Antwerp Arms in Tottenham and The Bevy in Brighton. Decisions are made in a truly democratic way and the space is managed by the community.

Amy: Through running a late license bar profits can be reinvested into the space in order to run programmes to serve all sections of the community.

London’s venues are shutting down everywhere - why is it so important to create these spaces for Londoners and for LGBTQI+ communities?

Peter: In a way, it’s like paying forward to our younger selves. We have virtual or temporary spaces but at the moment it’s really difficult to wait and only be queer on the last Tuesday of the month. What has been torn down are those permanent physical structures that we can exist in 24/7.  They form and hold us together as a community, and they’ve been ripped away from us. So it’s really important that we’re fighting for something permanent.

There’s also the motive that if we, a group of people with no experience, who used to drink in a pub, can stand up and maybe change the tone of the debate, then surely anybody can. That sounds a bit grand, doesn’t it?

“If we, a group of people with no experience, who used to drink in a pub, can stand up and maybe change the tone of the debate, then surely anybody can”

Is London doing enough to stop the decline of its’ nightlife and LGTBQI+ spaces?

Amy: In the last year, evidence has shown this is systematic and happening across London. When we first started, it felt like we were shouting into a void. Obviously, many communities have been shouting for a long time and perhaps now things are changing, but what’s been lost in that time?

Peter: At the root of this is money, the fact rents are increasing. The bigger issue that we came up against early on, was how does our campaign sit up against other campaigns like Focus E15 or in Haringey, people talking about their homes? I think it’s interesting to see how the tide is turning in those battles.

What stage are you at now and what support are you seeking from the public?

Amy: Now is the fun bit. The past three years we’ve developed our core principles but it’s now about bringing more people into the campaign. The big thing is to come to one of the meetings. What happens next depends on what people want to do. Follow us on social media, come in and get involved. Whoever joins the campaign it’s theirs to build on.

Sign up to attend the first meeting on March 10 at Hackney Showroom here