© Photo by Alexa Pearson
The concerns of all of us that belong to the Save Soho movement are numerous. In fact there are too many concerns to ever cover in one single blog.
Protecting little corners of heritage are consistently mentioned when it comes to Soho. The diversity of minority groups are always a point of focus, and the cry of protest against corporate chains is something we are always likely to live with on this golden mile of London's creative quarter.
The one concern which is often overlooked and, in my humble opinion, not mentioned nearly enough, is the diversity of income groups. Soho is well known for it's upper echelons of privileged society. In fact, successful, rich and famous characters are sometimes the only view that anyone looking at Soho from the outside can see.
Whether it's fake or factual news, ask anyone outside of London what Soho is and a common response will often include memories of photos of famous actors or supermodels being papped outside The Groucho Club, spotted whilst leafing through a tabloid. Such is the outsider's view of Soho, thanks to our ever celebrity obsessed media. But there is much more than meets the eye for anyone looking to understand what Soho has always been and still is.
Famous and successful characters associated with the area were not always famous and successful. In fact, there would have been a time that they were completely unknown. That time would have been when they were young and could not even have afforded a cup of tea at a private members club in Soho, let alone the membership fee.
Creative giants have to start small. And they have to have somewhere to start at all. Pete Townsend had The Marquee, Paul O'Grady had Madame Jojo's, the boys from Spandau Ballet had The Beatroot, Billy's Club, French and Saunders and Eddie Izzard all had The Boulevard Theatre (now to be reinstated once again thanks to Soho Estates), Francis Bacon, well, he had The Colony Room which no doubt gave him a window to life that made it's mark in the mind of one of the most imaginative artists of the 20th century. And not forgetting the Dean Street shuffle where Gavin Turk, Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst held court in one of the most recent examples of Soho's art scene.
All fantastically talented and revered in their own fields, it's likely that when they entered the stage of Soho, they were all in their own way, struggling artists, with very little to rub between their hands other than the excitement and inspiration of being part of a creative community that would eventually end up making history.
It has long been a personal wish or idyllic dream of mine that, for every new over priced establishment that pops up in Soho, a new affordable community space would also pop up to cater for the Soho characters of tomorrow. In fact I believe it should be passed as a law in Soho, in order to maintain the balance between the rich and the not so rich, the celebrated and the struggling, the masters and the apprentices.
Through our committee at Save Soho, we have put it to landowners that with their unused buildings, they take the initiative to turn those buildings into affordable community spaces where young, not so rich folk hoping to make their mark one day, may flourish in that classic Soho tradition. Let's be honest, if there were more affordable spaces in Soho for art and fashion students, young musicians and budding actors, we may win back some of the extraordinary up and coming talent who have all found their own creative hub in Hackney Wick or Dalston. Not to replace Hackney Wick or Dalston you understand, but certainly to keep a tradition alive in Soho that is well over half a century old now.
We love change. And Soho has always changed. But it has changed because of the diversity of income groups all rubbing along together at once. And of course we already have one Mayfair. No one needs another one in the centre of London.
As yet, none of the big landowners in Soho have produced a new establishment that would cater for a community of young creatives who are still paying off their university loans. The idea that property owners are happy to trade and profit on the rich heritage of famous faces that once worked in those properties is understandable. But not to allow subsequent generations to carve out their own creative future is unforgivable.
No, the guardians of Soho are yet to prove their interests are anything other than big profits and turning Soho into a glammed up airport lounge full of glass and steel.
The good news is that, through passion, determination and bundles of talent, independent entrepreneurs like Hamish Jenkinson and Johnny Grant of The Department have established Soho's first new affordable members club, specifically created for new artists who are still in the spring of their careers.
Their gallery and club, Lights of Soho did not swagger into town ignoring the history and surroundings of the special location where they began their business. They have done what Soho does best by nodding and winking affectionately at the past, whilst simultaneously building a fertile plot on which Soho's creative future can grow.
These new independent establishments, along with Soho Radio, need the tender support that we offer all to easily to the old guard establishments when they are under threat.
Since it's first pop up in 2014, Lights of Soho has held it's own as a thriving creative hub of ideas inhabited by the most exceptional talent in London's art world. Like Soho Radio, it's also a hangout. And we all know that from little Soho hangouts, great big things do grow. The continued success of Lights of Soho depends very much on it's hopes and ambitions to expand, and as such, I urge anyone who values Soho's role as a platform for creative innovation and out of the box ideas, to support their new crowdfunding initiative here. And do pop in if you are in Soho. The lights are miraculous. For the creators, the spectators and for Soho's own maverick spirit, long may they shine.