We look back at over a year of parties, planning and progress
We started 2018 on an extended break after an exhausting few months objecting to the development that will demolish the Joiners Arms, and then eventually winning protections which will see a queer venue in the new development.
With that phase of the campaign over, we knew we had to take some time and then come back to change our direction away from protest towards something else.
As one campaigner said:
“There was the hype of the Section 106 thing ending and us being left with the future. We were working on the present and dealing with documents and objection letters, and now you’re like ‘OK, fuck, what do we do with all this stuff?’.
Now we have a foot in the door in someways, it’s been mostly been like thinking about utopian things other than practical steps – but also the practical steps to the utopia. So it’s been an interesting year in terms of seeing actually what we’re made of in terms of not just opposing things, but creating things.
What we’re made of in terms of not just opposing a development, opposing gentrification, but actually right now, OK this is what we want a space to look like, this is what we would like to see, and this is what should be done, and this is the kinds of people we want involved, and the kind of organisation we want to be.”
For our first tour date of the year, we were asked to appear at a salon at the Museum of London, ‘Queer Night Scenes’, where we held a conversation led by Planning Out. It was weird to reflect, two glasses of wine in each hand, on what people had been referring to as a victory, or a winning of power.
As our co-chair Jon said,
“What we’ve gained and what we’ve achieved is a landmark but also it’s so insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
We still don’t have any power… The space that brought us together allowed more than just dancing or whatever… Realise what queer spaces have the potential to do and actually replicating the power of them even once they’re gone.
Think about what queer spaces afford us and also what they lack.”
This really set the tone for the year ahead – instead of doing a victory lap, we needed to think hard about what we would do with a space if we got it, who needed it, and how to run it.
February also saw us take part in the Lush Summit, where we spoke with Lush employees from all over the world about what queer spaces meant to them, and a ‘Goodbye to London’ night of performances at Limewharf – where a collaboratively-written script was brought to life by Rosy (and an unindentified extra acting out the most infamous love story of our times).
In March, we held open public meetings to mark the start of what we called, rather grandly, Phase II – our aim was to bring together as wide a section of the LGBTQI+ community as possible and talk about what the future could hold, now that “we’ve learned not to take shit from anyone.”
We talked about the 4 key principles underpinning our plan for a pub: it’s got to be queer, it’s got to be accessible, it’s got to be not-for-profit, and it’s got to be late-licence.
We had a film made of the events here:
We also shared the sad news of the death of David Alexander Pollard, the legendary landlord of the original Joiners Arms. David was the mischievous soul who inspired this campaign – telling us to look into how to protest the proposed closure even as developers were paying him off.
David’s funeral was a raucous, fun, celebratory affair – full of tears, laughter and the Muppets theme tune. In a bittersweet twist, Dan Glass paid tribute to David when we won SMK Foundation’s ‘Community Campaign Of The Year’ award later in the month:
“And lastly, we want to say thank you to David Pollard, who was the founder of the Joiners Arms.
Not only did he open a legendary queer pub, but it was the first pub that paid the London Living Wage for its workers. He passed away about 3 and a half weeks ago. Behind the bar at the Joiners Arms there was a big sign that said ‘LOVE, LIFE AND LIBERTY’. He really inspired us all.
When we found out that the Joiners Arms was being closed by Regal Homes, and we had the first campaign meeting to stop the place being closed, he said ‘when this pub closes, the revolution starts.’ And that dream spurred us on, so we really want to say thank you to David. Rest in peace. ”
We held our next general meeting in May, where we agreed to organise into working groups – swiftly renamed Fun Groups (Parties, Business Planning, Outreach and Governance be thy names).
We were really excited to see new people attending and getting involved – here’s how one new member summed it up:
“I thought it was something that I wanted to be a part of, cos it was just a good set of people. I needed that, especially after being at the Joiners and it being such an abrupt end, it was something that was necessary for me.
It was a kind of lifeline, because it just ended too abruptly for me. I just thought the title, Friends of the Joiners Arms, it was just perfect and I just wanted to be involved in some way.
I could see this exploding, and having its day. I can see that also it’s going to take work, – nothing comes easy or whatever, but something has to be done.
I can see how the community was – or is – suffering, and instead of talking about it all the time, somebody has to stand up and be that change, and I feel like you lot are. So I just wanted to jump into it. I needed that.
You lot are good guys, man, and it’s nice to see gays that are just cool, nice. It’s just good to see. I was telling my mates, at the last meeting, and how you lot was, with the little food and just sharing it out, and I was like “Yeah.”
June saw the planning agreement for the new development signed between Athletico Tower Hamlets and FC Regal Homes, and finally gave us the concrete knowledge of what the new development will look like and what we have to work with (should we be blessed enough to win that lease).
We also held a meeting to plan a party (which turned into its own party) and another general meeting sat on blankets in a very sunny Victoria Park. Someone noted,
“Even in the Joiners, I never felt that confident about going into ‘gay bars’ – I worried a lot about how I looked, how to interact with people, how I fit in with a culture so focussed on pulling each other.
So I stayed in my small bubble of friends, and drank a lot. It’s weird, then, that this campaign to open a ‘new Joiners’ has finally given me a queer space that I feel at home in.
When I turned up to that meeting in Victoria Park, I realised I immediately felt comfortable, listened to, open.
We might not have saved the Joiners, or even opened a new bar yet, but every time any of us meet we are bringing a new queer space to life. It’s as cheesy as the omnipresent Babybel to say it, but I think I might have finally found my queer home.”
In July, we marched in the Outsider Bloc in Pride – having been kettled for over 2 hours in the baking sun, it was pretty inspirational to face down the enormous crowds of tourists and families enjoying the spectacle with the Outside Project and others.
LGSM’s protest against migrant deaths was a great counter to the Domino’s Pizza rainbow stickers and Lily’s Kitchen LGBT+ friendly dog food.
August saw our first fundraising party of the year, the Queer Riviera at the Cause in Tottenham – starring none other than Joiners alumni Dan Beaumont & Charlie Porter and Kevin Clash, along with fresh talent Mica Coco, Junglehussi and DJ dwayneDwayne. We got some great feedback, including:
“The diverse and mixed crowd worked really well. That’s not easy to pull off, and is perhaps indicative of representation found within FoTJA.”
“I thought the Cause was also a good venue even though they stole my poppers (it’s a long journey to queer utopia).”
“I loved the care free vibe, the diversity and the DJs, especially Mica and dwayneDwayne”
“I’d like to see more queer female/non-binary/womxn on the decks too. So that it’s not that male-centered”
We held a debrief meeting at Dalston Curve Gardens in September, and stuffed our faces with takeaway from Andu – we agreed that we should make our next party a female/non-binary event, with all DJs and performers who identify as female or non-binary.
We also wrote our submission for funds to open Pollard’s, an over-55s pop-up venue – sadly this didn’t win, but you can see more about the submission on Aviva’s website.
In November we held our all female/non-binary party at Redon, ‘Lese-Majeste’ – with performances from Don One and Romeo De La Cruz, and DJ sets from Rachael, Nadine Artois, Saph, and Krystal Lake. You can see photos from it on our Facebook group, but here’s how one party-goer summed it up…
“I really enjoyed this last night at Redon, and I really enjoyed the fact that loads of people that I didn’t know were coming came and dressed up and danced, and were fantastic and beautiful.
Loads of random people showed up – or people that I knew, but they didn’t know I was there, I didn’t know they were there, and it was like, oh, it’s funny that our circles have crossed, our paths have crossed again through this.”
We finished the year off with another general meeting held at Stonewall Housing, and again were so happy to see new people coming along and getting involved…
“It’s been so great having more people getting involved in FOTJA and injecting new skills, energy, enthusiasm and character into the campaign!
It’s been really inspiring to see people throw themselves into the campaign and take ownership over it”
We’ve got so much exciting lined up for 2019 – more parties, working with architects to design what our new queer pub will look like, finalising our governance structure, unveiling our business plan, and hopefully even opening a temporary venue.
We are open for anyone to come get involved, so come along to our next meeting on Feb 21st and help make 2019 our biggest, queerest year so far. And to end this post, Team FOTJA had some final reflections on the year…
“Up until the end of 2017, the campaign had to focus on fighting back against what we were losing as we tried to protect the Joiners as best we could.
Whereas 2018 marked the change: it’s been a year of creating something new.
We’ve set the foundations of a radical queer community group who are set to become even stronger in 2019. And I can’t fucking wait”
“Personally my major highlight this year has been constantly – daily – reminded of how fuckin incredible the FOTJA family are. After 3 years of a long battle – everyone’s commitment to contribute their wide range of skills weaves in an incredible toolkit that pushes us to continue until we are firmly back behind / on top and collapsed in front of that Joiners Bar.
Old-timers and newcomers to the campaign are continuously forging the most phenomenal coalition of queer space revolutionaries. Long may it continue X”
“FOTJA feels like one of the most exciting and revolutionary things to happen to London’s nightlife in forever- it really feels like we’re on the cusp of creating something incredible.
But even more than that, right from the word go this has been driven by real COMMUNITY and has been so amazing and energising to be part of. Here’s to pushing even closer to the dream in 2019!”