GayEastLondon: Has Lewisham lost its gay scene?

Calliope Lunn

Calliope Lunn. Pic: Joel Watson

The number of local gay bars and pubs in east London is significantly decreasing. Many beloved establishments have been lost and those that remain have had to adapt. ELL has mapped the decline of LGBTQ venues in our boroughs over the past 30 years from 1985 to 2015. Follow the story this week to find out why this is happening and what it means for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.

Whilst the southern parts of east London, such as Croydon and Lewisham, have never had quite as many gay bars and pubs as the north, Lewisham’s Two8Six operated as a gay bar for more than 60 years. In 2012 it closed its doors for good.

Some gay pubs have closed because of the same problems that affect straight pubs such as the financial crisis, the smoking ban, high rent — Two8Six fell victim to London’s soaring house prices — but the closure of gay venues has affected LGBTQ culture in a way unseen by the general public.

Steve Thompson was the landlord when the pub closed after being taken over by new owners. Thompson said the owners demanded that he evict his live-in staff, who slept above the pub, so that the space could be privately rented out, as well as other conditions, until the bailiffs came in and changed the locks on the premises. Without Two8Six, Lewisham no longer has a local gay bar within the borough.

With the influx of young gay students to the area attending Goldsmiths College and living in Lewisham, the LGBTQ society at Goldsmiths does an important job of acting as a rendezvous for new gay people in the area.

Committee member Calliope Lunn speaks to ELL about the work that the society does for students at the university, and how it has changed since she first arrived.

“The only event I ended up going to that I did in first year was a club night where they went to Soho and it was just very messy and I didn’t like the idea of it. I stayed away for a bit.”

“I was asked by the new committee then to help out in third year. I was thrown into it as was our current president and we worked really hard in first term with just the two of us to try and create as nice an experience for members and lots of non-drinking spaces which I think is quite important.”

“The idea of not going out just to get really, really pissed is quite nice for a lot of people who come from places where there is no scene. And these are the first new queer people that they are meeting.”

The way that Lunn has approached organising events for the society that aren’t solely based around drinking, is indicative of the need for gay pubs. While there is always the option of going out to Soho or Vauxhall for a night out, there is still a need for some people for a quieter social venue where young gay people, especially those who have recently ‘come out’, can express themselves without pressure.

Lunn continues: “As we’ve gotten more and more committee members to help us out, we’ve managed, over LGBT history month, to set up a series of safe spaces, each specific to different things, such as women who liked women. That was really great to have a chilled out area to talk about different issues.”

Lunn speaks about her experience of first coming out in East London:

With no alternatives to Two8Six on the horizon, the work that Callipe and the rest of the LGBTQ society do is more important than ever for young queer people in Lewisham.

Follow GayEastLondon stories on ELL this week and read here about what is happening to the gay scene in Hackney and Tower Hamlets.

For more information on how the data behind this article was collected, see our methodology.

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