Letter describing Glasgow Premises in 1981

1 August 1981   [in NAS GD467/3/2/30  bold letters not in original]
from Malcolm Crowe, Secretary SHRG Glasgow Branch to Hackney Community Action

 Extract from letter:

Dear Caroline,

Thank you for your letter of 27th July asking about how we acquired premises etc. First some general points: (a) Partnership Funding (of the equivalent we have up here) requires some sort of assessor to be on the committee, and we never liked that idea because of our democratic structure, which requires us to do things because that's what we want to do and not because some outside person says we ought to; (b) if the project is dependent on outside funding it is unlikely to last more than one year - Britain is littered with the skeletons of Gay Centres which lasted just as long as the initial grant (not renewed).

Next, what we have done: We own two properties in Glasgow, (i) Glasgow Gay Centre, 534 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow (value £18500) which consists of a small office, a coffee bar, and a largish meeting room. The coffee bar has its own separate lounge area. (ii) The Club in 4 Queen's Crescent, Glasgow (value £50000), which is on four floors, with a basement lounge, a ground floor bistro, a first floor bar and disco bar and disco floor, and offices/flat above.

The Gay Centre was the property we bought first  (October 1976). The way it happened is as follows. The Job Creation Scheme was set up in 1975, and we were encouraged to apply under the scheme: we were given two full-time employees, and administrative assistant, and a person to locate and set up premises for our Group. Shiela Macaskill was employed by us in the second capacity (later National Chair of SHRG), and eventually found premises in Sauchiehall Street, which would cost £8000. They were empty office premises, just a shell, and in need of a great deal of renovation. We had managed to save about £1800, so we obtained a mortgage for £6500 from our Bank with personal guarantees from our members as security. Glasgow Council for Voluntary Services were doing the Job Creation supervision for us, and they arranged Community Industry to rebuild the Centre to our plans, making the coffee bar, building several false ceilings, lavatories, etc. All this building work was free: we supplied the building materials, but as far as I can make out we seem to have obtained grants for that too.

The Gay Centre opened in September 1977 (opened by Glasgow's Director of Social Work), and quickly obtained rates relief because the work there is considered of social benefit. Somehow or other we had managed to keep paying the mortgage on the bank loan meantime: during 1977 comercial competition had removed discos as a source of revenue and we had had to look to our members to keep money coming in - we needed £150 per month just for the Bank! But to our delight, once, the Centre opened we did well, with income form the coffee bar of about £40 per week (after costs and VAT), donations at entry to the little discos there of about £50 per week, often more: and around this time we also arranged a series of excellent Saturday night discos which mad a lot of money too: these discos were in outside venues (mainly Gigi's).

In 1979 we set up a Premises Committee to find additional premises for a Club. Exploratory discussions with out Bank and a brewery suggested that they would be prepared to dive loans of about £48000 between them, using the Centre and the Club premises as security, back up with further personal guarantees from our members. On this basis (after a mountain of legal work) we finally bought 4 Queen's Crescent, a former Club, on 4th February 1980 for £31620.  After extensive rebuilding at a cost of over £25000, the Club opened its doors on 11 July 1980, selling soft drinks only. Under Scottish licensing laws a Club must be a going concern before it can obtain a licence (Clubs are comparatively rare here because, unlike England, proprietors' clubs are illegal), and there were objections to our getting a licence, form the police among others, so we did not get the all clear for selling alcohol until 2nd October 1980. Even then, things were pretty grim because the shutters had to come down on the bar at 11pm, and the Club was not really successful until 19 January 1981, when the District Council gave us regular extensions for our bar until 2am on three nights every week.

By that time, we were in pretty deep water financially. To get the regular extensions we had had to install additional toilets at a cost of £7000 and had to ask members to donate or loan that amount. But as the money started coming in, the Bank agreed to increase our loans to £53000, with a further £3000 overdraft limit, and this has been sufficient. There were in fact three occasions when we felt pretty gloomy: August 1980, November 1980 (raising the £7000), and Feb-April 1981, when we were talking to the Bank. Even now, we still rest on the District Council's discretion to renew our extensions next January!

The Centre was (and still is) staffed entirely by volunteers. The Club has a staff of about 12: a Manager, a charge hand, a cook, a bouncer, a DJ, and lots of part time bar and catering staff, all of whom have to be paid the going rate. There is an enormous voluntary input from the Management Committee of the Club, who look after the door when the Club is open, to ensure that we compy with the really rather onerous provisions of the Licensing Act. The Club now has about 700 members, and is very very busy on Fridays and Saturdays: the gross turnover must be in the region of £60000 per year.

By contrast, we have had not much success with funding from our local authority. From the Social Work Dept we have received in successive years £550, £300, and £200 for equipment, and this year £100 to help our telephone service (we asked for £950!). Compare Lothian Region Social Work Dept, who this year gave £1600 to Edinburgh Gay Swithboard, and the Secretary of State, who gave £2500 nationally. On the other hand, perhaps we should take into account the £880 that our rates relief for the Centre saves us.

Anyway, I'm sure that none of the above is what you want to know, so please feel free to telephone me - my number is at the top of the letter.

Best wishes, [signed] Malcom Malcolm Crowe. Secretary.

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