UK’s newest LGBT+ venue to open after friends bet life savings on desperately-needed space
The UK’s newest LGBT+ venue is a love letter to the local queer community in Margate.
In the mid-1990s, the British Beer and Pub Association estimated that there were around 600 LGBT+ venues in the UK. By 2015, this number had plummeted to 200.
Half of Britain’s LGBT+ spaces, many smaller community-led venues, have shuttered in the last decade alone. With many already struggling with rocketing rent and thin profit margins, the coronavirus pandemic only deepened this crisis.
But bucking the trend is CAMP, a queer venue set to open in Margate on Northdown Road in Cliftonville, just a short walk from the Old Town.
CAMP is the handiwork of five friends – Olivia Lloyd, siblings Derek du Preez and Jessica du Preez, and couple Sophie Brown and Jess Hall – who are transforming an old computer shop to inject some glitter into Margate’s chalky coastline.
They’re already roping in drag and cabaret artists, comedians and more to fill the entertainment-led space, which will serve drinks from Wednesday to Sunday each week when it opens in May.
“Let’s face it, LGBT+ venues are under attack,” Derek told PinkNews. “But these spaces aren’t just nice to have, they’re absolutely essential. They’re life-saving in many cases.”
Sophie added: “There are many spaces that tolerate us, but it’s an entirely different thing to have somewhere that celebrates you. I want my son, Holland, to grow up around other queer people and families, in a space that’s safe for us to explore that.”
Five queer pals wanted a space to simply be – then ‘everything stopped’ amid COVID
CAMP began life in 2019 when Sophie and Jess found a flat in Margate with a shop beneath it. They planned to open a queer space, but the sale fell through.
Undeterred, the group began throwing parties a the Margate Arts Club. Their first party was the a 2020 Valentine’s Day Ball – it made Jess realise immediately how powerful queer spaces can be.
“This gorgeous young gay kid turned up as the doors opened and told us that it was his first time at a queer night,” she said. “He’d gone to his gran’s house to get ready because she was more accepting than his parents.
“He was buzzing to be around other queer people in the town where he grew up. That made my heart so happy and really spurred us on to open the CAMP space in a permanent way.”
“After the party, the search to find a space continued,” she added, “but then the pandemic turned the world upside down and everything stopped.”
Three lockdowns and many bottles of wine later, the five agreed over dinner to give CAMP another shot. It meant, however, using their collective savings of £25,000.
But as Derek says, it’s difficult to put a price tag on queer spaces. He’s invested the money he was saving to buy a house, but adds: “We aren’t really in it for the money.”
Landlords ‘were reluctant to take on a queer space’
Simply opening a new LGBT+ space is no small feat, and the group lost out on several properties after landlords said their “‘vision’ wasn’t in line with their preferences”, according to Derek.
“To be honest, it felt like landlords were reluctant to take on a queer space,” Derek added, explaining: “After rejections on properties that needed less work, we decided to throw everything at an empty unit that has a huge amount of potential and in need of a little love.”
The community has been a lifeline for the five, as tight budgets mean they are relying on free or second-hand equipment to set up for a May launch date.
“The LGBTQ+ community in Margate is really something special,” Derek added.
“Everyone knows each other and everyone has each other’s back.”
The organisers have opened a crowdfunder to help cover the dizzying costs – they’ve already raised more than £4,000.
“We’re also running as a raffle,” Derek added, “so for every £1 you put in, you get an entry for the chance to win a £1,000 bar tab at CAMP when we open our doors.”
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