Sex industry workers and their supporters picketed Hackney Town Hall yesterday, opposing proposed regulations that could effectively close down their industry.
The 10.30am protest, attended by roughly 30 people, was timed to coincide with the last few days of a public consultation run by Hackney Council.
Hackney residents are being urged to take part in an online survey as the Council seeks to make changes to the licensing of commercial sex venues.
A “nil policy” has been proposed, which would mean new licences would not be granted to sex shops, strip clubs or adult cinemas. Current venues could be shut down when their licence comes up for renewal.
While the Council feels that sex establishments do not fit with the character of the area, the consultation has sparked debate between clubs and their critics. Support for the clubs has come from unlikely quarters, including a local vicar.
The Reverend Paul Turp of St. Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch has publicly referred to the licensing changes as “oppressive measures”.
The vicar has said he would ultimately prefer if activities at strip clubs didn’t happen, but insists that Hackney Council should not impose a moral code on its citizens, only a criminal one.
“They [lap-dancing clubs] are not dodgy back-street places where people are getting ripped off,” he said. “There are much bigger social problems that destroy communities for the council to be concentrating on than lap-dancing clubs.”
Denise Chandler, 56, owner of Browns lap-dancng club in Shoreditch, expressed concern about the job losses for bar staff, doormen, cabbies and local fast-food shops.
Stripper Cheeky, a 28 year-old who has worked in the sex trade for 10 years, said: “Girls do not get exploited in this industry, maybe in third world countries, but not in the UK. Especially in this area, the girls are pretty safe.”
Opponents of the ban argue that it will compromise the cultural creativity of the area, a view not shared by all their neighbours.
Speaking to the Guardian, local arts worker Rebecca Mordan fully supported the proposed “nil policy”.
“Walking past these venues is terrifying. How can women feel safe in there when I can’t feel safe just walking past?”
The consultation runs until Monday. To participate, see here.