By Ben Wilson
What do you look for when you go out on the town? Eclectic nights? Cheap drinks? The best music and a rooftop view of the capital’s skyline? Well according to the KCLSU website, ‘you’ve got it right here at your own university’ in the form of Tutu’s nightclub! The only problem, however, is that you won’t for much longer, as many who attend King’s will already be aware.
Despite the fact that ‘our students don’t stop until the lights come up’, the decision has been made to end the bust of Desmond’s dancefloor reign. No longer will his benevolent features watch over the clubbers of King’s, his omnipresent gaze approvingly observing an onslaught of Jagerbombs and the resultant loss of dignity.
On March 11th KCLSU President Thomas Clayton released a statement declaring that ‘despite our best efforts the popularity of Tutu’s Nightclub has declined and with that has come some significant financial losses… prompting the need for review’. This review, however, will begin with Desmond’s favourite dance spot closing at the end of this academic year.
Students immediately took to Roar!’s Twitter account to express their views. Thomas Smith disputed Clayton’s club-closure tagline “Goodbye Tutu’s means hello London!”, arguing that it in fact meant “goodbye our identity and hello overpriced drinks”.
There were supporters of the decision though – Lydia Gray claimed that “anyone kicking of bout [sic] Tutu’s closing is as naïve as they are foolish. Was losing shed-loads of money that can be better spent”. Meanwhile Christopher Hares wittily observed “I look forward to seeing ‘Occupy Tutu’s’ because they will clearly smash the record attendance for this academic year”.
So where exactly did it go wrong for Tutu’s, and how did it reach the point of (last year alone) losing KCLSU over £100,000? As not only the designated Student Union nightclub, but also a key pillar of Clayton’s presidential election campaign, it seems surprising that this should have been allowed to happen.
Documents obtained by Roar! show that as far back as February 2011 the financial situation at Tutu’s was being raised as a serious issue with the Board of Trustees. Minutes from discussions held on the future of the club record that ‘to do nothing’ was ‘not considered an option’, while the ‘potential to re-establish Tutu’s as a great student facility’ was recognised.
The main areas acknowledged as bringing about the downfall of Tutu’s seem to be the lack of use as a daytime venue, and general apathy and unawareness on the part of the student body. The 2011 KCLS You Tell Us survey revealed that of the 82% of undergraduates that were actually aware of the nightclub’s existence, only 59% had actually been there on a night out. The figures are much worse for post-grads – only 56% knew about Tutu’s, and of that select few only 27% had graced its dance floor.
Meanwhile, what was this prime real estate, situated in central London and with an incredible view of the capital’s skyline being used for during the daytime? According to the board meeting minutes ‘some student clubs and societies do use the space, for example the Table Tennis Club use it twice each week for practice’.
Several different proposals were made with regards to investment strategies that would revitalise the club, ranging from the outright closure of Tutu’s (a move that at the time was recognised as most likely causing ‘damage to reputation with students’ and losing ‘opportunity for growth’) to a £750k upgrade that would see Tutu’s become ‘a functional daytime space with catering provision and an improved nightclub offer’.
Yet instead they opted for a £75k revamp that mainly involved ‘investing in superficial refurb [sic] (furniture/decoration)’ in a move that was apparently intended to ‘create differentiation or “wow” factor’ – for those who actually visited Tutu’s in the last year, you’ll have to judge the “wow” factor for yourselves.
The benefits cited for this approach were that it ‘does not require massive capital investment’ and that it ‘provided opportunity to turnaround risk of potential losses.’ It would seem that rather than make a direct commitment of the funds needed to transform Tutu’s into a profitable venture, KCLSU and the Board of Trustees decided to try and paper over the cracks and hedge their bets in case of a closure that, at this stage, seemed all but inevitable.
All the while the crucial problems for Tutu’s remained unaddressed, with ‘Cheapskates’ at the Moonlightings nightclub in nearby Soho offering enough alcohol on a student budget to kill a small pony, and ULU’s ‘Friday Fever’ providing a club night for the University of London student community that was consistently full to capacity. Tutu’s much needed ‘differentiation’ and ‘wow factor’ was never going to be brought about by simply applying a few cosmetic improvements.
As many have argued, one real avenue of potential for Tutu’s lay in it becoming a more prominent live music venue. With a proud heritage of past performers that includes The Cribs, The Vaccines, Arcade Fire and KCL alumnus Kele Okereke’s very own Bloc Party, both the layout and location would have been a dream for promoters, bands and fans alike – with the possibility of being used not only to host established acts but to support up-and-coming performers from amongst the student community.
Instead, King’s students who braved the 5th floor of the Macadam building were faced with ‘Afterskool Club’, 80’s themed ‘Truffle Shuffle’ and the indie disco ‘Des Was a Bowie Fan’. These are the kinds of generic nights you could expect to find at any provincial town’s Oceana with a captive market, not a nightclub in the centre of the capital faced with discerning customers and surrounded by stiff competition.
By the time the 2012 KCLSYou Tell Us survey took place, Tutu’s had received a predicted Net Promoter Score of -65, a ‘very negative response showing most customers would actively not recommend Tutu’s to friends/colleagues’. The future of The Space Formerly Known As Tutu’s remains a mystery at this point, although some suggestions are already stating to appear.
Although at this stage it is mostly pure speculation, there are some theories which are starting to gather widespread approval of opinion from different groups of the student body. While some are calling for an extension of the Waterfront Bar a floor below into the now vacant space, others are mooting the idea of a gym facility intended exclusively for King’s students and staff. Dark rumblings are even emerging from the student body of a growing movement calling for the establishment of ‘Reginalds’, a gentleman’s club with the roaring spirit of the King’s mascot at its heart.
The only thing that is certain, at this point, is that your opinions as the students of KCL are important. You need to be vocal about what you want for the future of the Macadam Building’s 5th floor, and ensure that the process of deciding its use is more democratic than the decision to close Tutu’s in the first place. If one thing has been proven from this whole affair, it is an apparent lack of willingness to provide investment in real terms when it comes to a Union for the student community.
Even though it was understood back in 2011 that while ‘competition for late night business was fierce… those that have invested in their business are seeing rewards in terms of additional income’, the adequate steps were clearly not taken in ensuring the survival of an undeniably integral feature of any university – the Student Union. So over the coming months tell KCLSU exactly what they should be doing to fill the impending Tutu-shaped void, and ask yourself at all times – what would Desmond do?