Why I Don’t Drink at Belushis
It wasn’t the greatest pub in the world – well, not for the Phantom demographic, anyway. But I did used to go there on a reasonably regular basis.
This was mainly on the occasions I used to visit the tiny Greenwich Playhouse upstairs. I’d have a drink (or three, if the curtain was late – which sometimes had disastrous results- I still remember the Walk of Shame across the stage when a late-kick off/several drinks resulted in an emergency loo-break in between scenes…) and I was okay with the place.
Belushis was what it was.
And, actually, Galleon Theatre was what it was too. The resident producing company didn’t always hit the mark for me, but I admired their dedication to creating theatre that wasn’t particularly commercial, but never took the easy route. In many ways they reminded me of the sort of work you used to get in the good/bad old days of subsidised theatre, before The Glory of the Garden, the swingeing cuts of the 90s and 2000s and the even more swingeing ‘temporary’ cuts to the arts that paying for the Olympics brought.
I’m not sure that Galleon were/are subsidised at all, but they still managed to keep going. The one thing they couldn’t have dealt with was the other Olympic effect – greed.
When the contract on their little attic theatre above Belushis wasn’t renewed, the excuse they were given at the time was that the landlord, Beds and Bars, wanted to run it as a venue themselves, and I, gullible Phantom as I was, actually believed it. In fact I was almost encouraged by that – I rather liked the idea of an independent venue that would present an even wider range of shows.
Galleon Theatre had much darker suspicions – that Beds and Bars wanted to cram as many bunk beds as possible into the space to cash in on the Olympics as a low-budget backpacker-type hostel.
Of course – the clue was in the name. It wasn’t ‘Beds and Bars and Challenging Contemporary Theatre…’
But I read this article in the Wharf and was mollified. The poor landlord was outraged that he was being so clearly maligned…
I find it hard to believe that I was that naive, but hey, I was. Of course B&B (see what I mean about the name..?) turned it into a flop house, with not so much as an open mic night as a nod to producing shows. And they did it illegally – they didn’t have permission for this change of use.
The council issued a ‘stop’ notice.
It was ignored.
By the time the news was out and the scales fell from Phantom eyes, it was too late, the deed was done, the Games were upon us and the backpackers were bowling up. The letters, emails and petitions were pointless, the cash was already rolling in.
I still had a bit of hope – after all – this was an illegal change of use. Surely the council would stamp all over that?
More letters, more petitions.
On 3rd July 2013, the council voted unanimously to grant retrospective change of use planning permission. There will be no opportunity to take it the Planning Inspectorate, that’s that. Beds & Bars have been rewarded for acting illegally and Galleon Theatre are once again packing their worldly goods into a little spotted hanky on a stick and looking for somewhere to live.*
The councillors who voted for this were (and there are some shockers in here, among others who don’t surprise me):
Cllr. Ray Walker
Cllr. Hadley Fletcher
Cllr. Dick Quibell
Cllr. Miranda Williams
Cllr. Geoffrey Brighty
Cllr. Neil Dickinson
Cllr. Matthew Pennycook
Cllr. Maureen O’Mara
I name them and shame them here because this brings up a much bigger issue. If Beds & Bars can get away with this, we have a precedent. A company has built illegally, been told to stop by the council, ignored that order then been rewarded for flouting rules by being granted planning permission anyway. What message does this send out to other unscrupulous developers?
In many ways I can’t blame B&B for cashing in – after all it was their building and they saw the opportunity for a massive profit. Not everyone values Art over the laughing lettuce of hard cash. What I hate is the way they did it – the outraged innocence, the protests of being unfairly daubed with false accusation.
Which is why I won’t be setting foot in any of B&B’s pubs again – wherever the location.
Hooray for the Greenwich Olympic Legacy – a budget hostel, one less theatre and a licence to build wherever you damn please…
*I have no idea whether the plan to get a brand new studio theatre in the bowels of a new build up the road has come to anything or not.