Queer activists have launched a £100,000 fundraiser to open the UK’s first community-run LGBTQI+ bar after a property developer blocked its promise to fund a venue following the closure of the famous Joiners Arms.
Campaign group Friends of the Joiners Arms launched a crowdfunding initiative on Friday, selling shares in the proposed new bar and community venue for just £25 in a ‘fight back’ against the number of queer venues being lost to property development .
The move comes more than seven years after developer Regal London bought and closed Joiners Arms, an LGBTQI+ institution in Tower Hamlets, east London. The bar had a host of famous names among its regulars, including Alexander McQueen, Rufus Wainwright and Sir Ian McKellen.
The developer had promised to pay £100,000 to fund an ‘LGBT+ pop-up bar’ to give Londoners an inclusive meeting place during the demolition and redevelopment of the Joiners. However, he did not provide the money as work on a planned hotel on the site was delayed by the pandemic.
Amy Roberts, Chair of Friends of the Joiners Arms, said: “London has lost so many of its LGBTQI+ spaces to property developers and rising rents, and we have fought back against that. It took eight long years, but the strength of our community prevailed. We are so proud to open a new queer space, in memory of the Joiners Arms, and are so grateful to the community for all the support we have had so far on our long journey.
By Friday night, the campaign had already raised nearly £14,000. But Roberts said the bar could not open if fundraising did not reach the £100,000 target.
“So we’re asking people to invest just £25 – although we’ll take more if you have it,” she said. “For those who can’t afford it, we’re also offering a ‘pay it forward’ scheme, to ensure that as many people as possible have a say in how this new queer space is run. “
Roberts said the campaign has received funding and support from the Foundation for Future London, Co-ops UK and social investment firm Reach Fund.
Campaigners are working with the Greater London Authority’s Culture and Community Spaces at Risk team to secure a site for the new venue for at least five years. It is hoped the space, which will host regular drop-in events for housing advice, HIV/AIDS testing and health awareness, will open by the end of the year.
Steve Harrington, Director of Planning at Regal London, said: “We are truly disappointed that we have not been able to make rapid progress in restoring this iconic LGBTQI+ venue.
“The challenges of the past two years have had a catastrophic impact on the entire hospitality industry and as a result the hotel operator we had planned to take on the lease has fallen. We are working hard to find another partner in order to advance development.
“We would like to continue to work closely with the Friends of the Joiners Arms on their plans for the future. Our relationships with our neighbors and community groups are essential, and we will do all we can to support this important space to be created.