Solemn and veiled in black lace, strippers lined the streets to mourn the death of The White Horse, what was one of a few remaining female-run ‘strip-pubs’ in the UK.
Four decades wasn’t enough to keep the spirit of this family business alive. And despite its deep-rooted sense of community, it declined amid a backdrop of austerity and gentrification.
Figures from the Land Registry and the UK Price Index shows that average house prices in the Borough of Hackney (where The White Horse resided) had risen by 9 per cent in the last year. Whilst the average cost of a property in Hackney is over half a million pounds.
It is still unclear what will replace the site where The White Horse once stood, but its closure revealed a bigger demise within the lapdance and stripping industry. Now, the birth of the East London Strippers Collective has left its members fighting for their rights.
“The clubs and the industry are becoming increasingly unpleasant places to work,” Stacey Clare, a former dancer, tells The Huffington Post UK.
On 14 August while draped in bondage chains, dancers from the club carried a coffin down Shoreditch High Street.
They were mourning the loss of a good employer within a tough industry. Some larger strip clubs charge their dancers high ‘house fees’ irrespective of how much their workers earn.
The White Horse, however, provided their dancers with reasonably set ‘house fees’ and guaranteed takings from contributory dances performed.
“The White Horse was not perfect but it was the best place I’ve ever worked” says its former dancer Kitty Velour.
“The problems of the wider industry, were still there, but of all of them it was the least precarious. The way it was run was fair,” adds Stacey Clare.
The White Horse also added a measure of protection in a climate where there is no formal legislation in England that delivers fair and adequate working rights for strippers.
In the face of no legal provisions for employment rights they chose to offer a fair but competitive environment for their employees. Former stripper Stacey Clare explains: “For each shift there was a limit to the number of girls working. And there was also a limit to the house fee. The house fee was always reasonable.”
The aim of the East London Strippers Collective is to challenge the working practices in strip clubs, lobby for better working conditions and to address prevailing stereotypes of strippers.
“One of our tag lines is forget everything you think you know about strippers” adds Stacey Clare, who is also a founding member of the East London Strippers Collective (ELSC).
This is a sentiment echoed by Billy Laser, a former stripper and member of the ELSC: “There is this stereotype maybe that strippers are dumb blondes, but they are not - they are very entrepreneurial women.”
There is a stark difference to how strip clubs in the UK operate compared to other parts of the world. Billy continues: “As a business model there have been other groups of dancers who have set up their own venue. It happened in America. I’m pretty sure it was San Francisco.” Billy is referring to the Lusty Lady strip club in San Francisco.
The task of setting up their own venue in England is proving ever more futile since most local councils have introduced a “nil policy” which restricts any new entrants into the industry.
Hackney council, told The Huffington Post UK that “there is a ‘nil policy’ in all areas of the Borough” which means no licenses will be granted.
This “nil policy” forbids the granting of any new SEV (Sexual Entertainment Venue) licenses. These are the licenses that strip clubs and other adult entertainment venues need in order to legally operate.
The “nil policy” particularly affects new entrants into the stripping industry because pre-existing strip clubs who already have SEV licenses are free to operate and are not required to re-apply for a license. This means it’s not possible for any new venues to open up.
Due to the lack of competition, the big lapdance and stripping clubs have formed a natural monopoly in the industry.
Hackney council confirmed that “established operators” that were in existence before the policy came into force had “an exemption for them to continue to operate”.
Therefore with increasingly few venues opening up strippers have to either accept the set working conditions or quit working entirely.
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Although the Collective’s aims to take on the big clubs in industry are well-founded, there also needs to be strong support from local and regional councils to support them in their goals.
Billy Laser reaffirms “I think it would just be lovely for people to be able to turn up to work, and perform and embrace their sexuality, turn people on and make sure everybody had a good time, without feeling that they were being conned.”