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York already has a reputation for being boring... you can't take our Society too

The University needs to fight for our nightclubs

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Image Credit: Lucy Cooper

I have a not-so-secret secret. Like many other York students, I came here through clearing. Nervous and hungover, the morning after results day I went onto UCAS and made the split second decision to accept my new offer from York. I was apprehensive, after hearing some mixed opinions about York’s wild (or not-so-wild) social life. But don’t worry, after a fair few (un)memorable nights and a drunken black eye, I can confirm this rumour was wrong.

The thing that York just cannot shake is its reputation for being boring. Every TikTok about universities drags in York to fill the quota for dull Uni towns. We stand no chance next to massive cities like Manchester or Leeds.

Yet, hardly anyone actually studying at York would say with confidence we are a dead Uni. Once again, like so many stereotypes, it is constructed by people who have probably never even stepped foot on campus.

Sure, York is a small city, and it’s perhaps more touristy and family-friendly than some of our rival university towns. Fine, every corner of the city is walkable, and the Minster is the most iconic attraction. Yet this doesn’t mean you can’t have a wild time here too. Where else can you get a triple vodka mixed with VK (or blue lemonade – currently my investigations into blue shits are inconclusive) for only a few pounds?

In fact, compared to many other universities, York has a much bigger student nightlife. My friends at other Unis like Lincoln or St Andrews tend to only have one or two nights where they can go out – in York (especially thanks to YSJ nights too) we could have a club night every evening of the week! Take it from me, after your fourth night of Stones, sticky floors, and some Salt and Pepper goodness, you probably won’t be calling the nightlife of York ‘dead’.

I’m not stupid, and I’m not going to say York should win prizes for its sesh scene. In fact, part of what makes a York night great is that we don’t take it too seriously. We might not have 10 different clubs to choose from each night, but if we’re going on a night out, you know the rest of the uni will be squeezed into the club of the evening. There aren’t many cities where you can go for a night out and be assured that everyone you know will be in the same cramped room.

However, even my optimism is feeling somewhat stretched at the moment. As each day passes, it seems like another facet of York’s social life is being destroyed. Before I even stepped foot in York, there were clubs being culled – Willow being a legendary name in the York club graveyard. RIP.

But it’s getting even worse. At first, it was the heartbreaking closure of FIbbers – an iconic venue which has hosted some of Britain’s greatest music groups like the Arctic Monkeys and The Stereophonics. I can hardly think of Fibbers and its eclectic mix of themed nights like On&On and PopParty without shedding a tear.

Mansion closed its doors around the same time – both two innovative and independent venues pushing local and student talent not being able to survive the increasingly hostile atmosphere facing York’s clubs. It seemed symbolic of a move away from the unique edge that made York’s music scene special.

But it turns out even the big guys weren’t safe. As the pandemic developed, even more question marks started flying around the bigger commercial clubs in York – and those across the country. Before long, even Kuda put the shutters down on Tiki Bar, after lockdown and social distancing rendered the nightlife industry almost impossible. Although it might not have come as a surprise, it still hurt my little lockdown heart, knowing that there would be fewer and fewer venues to return to once society begins to open up again.

You would think that the nightlife in York has been through enough. Yet the city still faces more risk, with proposed plans for a tourist attraction, apartments and offices meaning the demolition of Society bar on Rougier Street. Surely not another dance-floor being whisked from our post-lockdown feet?

It feels like a repetitive story at this point. The City of York council seem to be so insistent on developing the tourist sector and whacking more offices wherever they can fit, without considering the outcome for students in York. There are over 20,000 students in the city, and the council seem to forget that we are the ones living here for more than just a quick weekend away – and we deserve to have facilities available to us. When we arrived on move-in day at Freshers, we didn’t expect to be left with just Salvos and Revs for our big YorkParties nights; even Salvation seems at risk from these new Tanner Street plans.

"There needs to be a focus on the nightlife. The University must use its voice to stand up for the students"

It’s more than just a problem for our socials. The closure of the clubs signals deeper problems for York. We already have a reputation for being boring, and as more and more of our nightlife venues close, it will be harder to climb out of the deepening hole. The University needs to recognise that this will make a difference for future applicants. Sure, having an on-campus venue would be great, and someone somewhere in the YUSU offices might be conjuring up an idea, but right now they need to support us and fight against the nightlife purge that the council is presiding over. Offices can go anywhere, my drunken feet stumbling out of Lowther cannot.

There needs to be a focus on the nightlife – even if it feels like a distant memory in these Covid times. The University must use its voice to stand up for the students as the titans of the council try to brush us under the carpet. Sure, tourists bring money, but so do students, and I can assure you the council would feel differently if we all decided to leave.

I’m tired of having to reassure people that York is a fun place to be… and every time a club closes its doors, it feels harder to convince myself that there is still a wild time to be had. Justice for our clubs! And I’ll hopefully see you in Salvos soon.

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