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SAFE SPACE: Sauna granted licence to serve alcohol

SAFE SPACE: Sauna granted licence to serve alcohol

Basement Complex on Tariff Street, Image: Google Maps

A Northern Quarter sauna which offers a ‘safe space’ for gay and bisexual men and an alternative to the ‘dangerous chemsex scene’ has been granted a licence to serve alcohol. 

Basement Complex on Tariff Street in the city centre had applied to Manchester council to vary its premises licence to be able to serve alcoholic drinks in the lounge.

The application had received written support from men who use the sauna, who also raised concerns about ‘unsafe’ private parties being organised in people’s homes in the city.

These included fears about the consumption of ‘G’ at parties, also known as ‘GHB’, either in the form of of gamma hydroxybutyrate or GBL – gamma butyrolactone, which can be potentially lethal if combined with alcohol.

“The consumption of this drug, whilst niche, certainly does occur in Manchester amongst a subgroup of gay men who engage in group sex,” a document submitted to the licensing panel stated.

“However, whilst cases are rare, it is possible for the co-consumption of G and alcohol to result in in loss of consciousness and in worst case scenarios death.

“I would urge councillors to recognise that people are already combining these in domestic settings at private parties, where there is no regulation of the consumption of either of these drugs.

“I wish to suggest that it will be safer to facilitate the use of alcohol in a regulated premises where, if the staff had any suspicion that their patrons were under the influence of other drugs, they could merely decline to serve them any alcohol.

“This would be a significant way of ensuring harm reduction and making sure that alcohol and drugs do not mix.

“If an alcohol license isn’t granted, then chemsex will continue to increase in domestic settings in Manchester.”

Another supporter of the application wrote: “Allowing alcohol to be served is a significant boost to the local economy, encouraging men to attend the sauna instead of a growing dangerous chemsex scene.

“Basement’s offering of safe, staffed facilities provide an alternative to the problematic cruising along the canal.”

A member of the venue, Alex, had attended to speak in support of the application at its hearing in the Manchester council chamber.

He said that Basement Complex had ‘great significance’ to gay men around the area.

“Especially groups of people I’ve met attending the premises, for whom the venue provides a safe space from difficult situations and discrimination, and the services that the sauna are offering provide a crucial space to explore identity but also a social space to meet friends and go through the difficult process of coming out that is often ignored,” he told the committee.

“Granting an alcohol licence here improves the offering to those people by providing a safe and properly managed venue for those guests to meet and have a space that is safer than alternatives such as cruising, using apps to attend often dangerous ‘chemsex’ parties.

“It has recognisable benefits to the safety of those people and a recognisable benefit reduction in public nuisance.

“There is a recognisable practical location for those people to go and be included and their rights respected.”

Alex added: “I’m not ashamed to say I’m a member myself and I use the facilities.

“There are people such as myself who are public and comfortable with their sexuality and enjoy those venues occasionally and socially and it’s an important part of the fabric of the community in Manchester.

“There’s also something of an invisible group who are in difficult situations, whether that’s family, relationships or religious difficulties.

“I want to draw attention to a critical and perhaps most vulnerable group of gay men in our society that benefit from having a discreet and safe alternative.”

Chair of the committee, Councillor Donna Ludford said: “Obviously this means a lot to you.”

Anthony Horne, the barrister representing the licence holder  White Bell Investments Limited said there had been no enforcement visits since the business has opened more than nine years ago.

“It’s been decided that this is an additional but ancillary facility that my client wants to offer his membership,” Mr Horne added.

He said that the one objection made by a member of the public was a ‘pretty wild assertion based on no evidence whatsoever’.

“We don’t let under 18s into the premises,” he told members.

The committee agreed to grant the licence variation, subject to conditions.


Words: Charlotte Green, Local Democracy Reporter

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