UK: London council saves 'Fetish Gay Club' from redevelopment

The club — allegedly 'famous among leather and rubber men worldwide' — is 'an important community asset'

Tuesday 20 August - Tower Hamlets council has rejected plans to redevelop a site into housing to save the 'strictest' leather and rubber fetish gay club in Europe.

The council governing the East End borough ruled against the Backstreet bar being torn down to build a 12-story tower block, because to redevelop the site into 46 homes would 'harm the long-term provision of a nightclub that serves the LGBT+ community'.

Tower Hamlets Deputy Mayor Rachel Blake said the council viewed the bar — which Backstreet boasts is 'famous among leather and rubber men worldwide' — is 'an important community asset' and was 'going the extra mile to protect safe spaces for our diverse community'.

'It is the last true gay fetish club, and diversity matters to us,' Councillor Blake said. 'This kind of venue really matters to us, it matters to Tower Hamlets and to the whole of London. It is very important to have safe spaces for the whole community.'

Ms Blake expressed concern that the LGBT scene had lost a 'staggering number' of venues in the past decade, with Tower Hamlets being 'particularly badly hit with the loss of 73% of LGBT venues since 2006'.

One patron wrote to the council to petition Backstreet be saved, expressing that when he discovered the fetish bar as an 18-year-old, it 'saved my life”' writing: 'It gave me a community that made me feel welcome, and embraced me flaws and all. It stopped me thinking I was odd or an outsider, gave me confidence in myself, and gave me some incredible friends and mentors'.

The developer had offered to preserve the rubber fetish club in the basement of the apartment block, but the council’s planning inspector, Julia Gregory, said she was 'not convinced' that a nightclub at the bottom of a block of flats would be 'well received by parents with young children living above… or would be considered a benefit by future residents'.

This is not the first time that Tower Hamlets council intervened to mandate the preservation of the gay scene in the East End. In 2017, the council demanded that the Joiners Arms could only be developed if it remained a gay pub for at least 12 years. City Hall would also be sending a ‘cultures at risk’ officer to inspect the venue to ensure it was sufficiently gay.

Editor's comment - How do you inspect a venue to ensure it is 'sufficiently gay?' No, really, I'd like to know.


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