People in a club setting with hands in the air.

Why the nighttime economy is on its knees

Atik. The hot, crowded, pushy centre of student nightlife in Oxford. It is entirely probable that I have spent more time in Atik than I have in lectures. With the recent announcement that Atik will be closing in June, there is real cause for concern about the Oxford nightlife. In such an intense environment, it is natural for students to worry about the closure of some of the most popular places to blow off steam and forget about assignments.

The crisis of the nighttime economy is, of course, far bigger than Oxford. Nighttime workers (which includes anyone who works at night, not just those in entertainment sectors), totalled 8.7 million people in 2022 The nighttime economy is a substantial part of Britain’s economy, and its fall could have serious consequences nationwide.

The big question is: why? Why, all of a sudden, is there a downfall in the nighttime economy? What does this mean for Oxford?

A glaring reason is the after-effects of Covid-19. Covid can be blamed for many of the social and economic problems of the world at present, and I must admit that I am often sceptical of how much Covid has really contributed to these issues. Yet it is natural that Covid would have had an effect on nightclubs and pubs. These were the first places to close and the last to reopen, and we have seen a downfall in the entertainment and leisure industry in general. 

This can be explained by two reasons: both the reluctance of people to enter crowded social spaces following the pandemic, an issue which is becoming less and less relevant, but also the cost of keeping these places open, including paying rent, without any profit during the pandemic. 

Another reason is of course the cost of living crisis and the rising price of energy. These factors not only lower the income of the general public, who are less willing to spend money on nights out, but also increase the overheads of nightclubs and pubs. It should not come as a surprise that nightclubs use a lot of energy – as energy costs rise, so do the costs of clubs. They are forced to either lose out on profit or raise their prices. Clubs like Atik are reliant on a student economy, and students will only pay a certain price to go clubbing. 

Many a time have I based my decision on Park End on how much I can get a ticket for. Many a time have my friends heard me say “oh I’ll go if a ticket is less than £5”, and then proceed to buy a ticket for £7. Atik cannot raise their prices too high, else they would lose customers. 

The cost of living crisis affects students as much as venues. My rent this term was over £1,700, and my student loan was a little over £1,500. It does not take a mathematician to understand that the cost of being a student is impossible to cover without either an income or financial support. The Oxford rules make this struggle harder by barring students from taking on a part-time job, and students who are not receiving financial support other than the maintenance loan therefore have to spend every vacation working.

…the cost of being a student is impossible to cover without either an income or financial support.

Collections and end-of-term exams further complicate this issue: it is a delicate balance figuring out how much one has to work in order to be able to afford the next term, and how much time one will have to spend revising in order to be able to pass. Students who budget well will have to decide how many times they both want to and can afford to go clubbing in a term. Students simply do not have the same kind of disposable income that they used to have. 

Nightclubs also rely, to an extent, on the sale of drinks, and this in particular has taken a hit in recent years, with many students avoiding buying drinks in nightclubs. Partially, this is another effect of the cost of living crisis. Students may be able to justify the price of a club ticket, but not the price of drinks at the club. Particularly when a doubles can cost more than £10, drinking in clubs no longer seems worth the high price. 

Students may be able to justify the price of a club ticket, but not the price of drinks at the club.

The culture of clubbing has also changed. It is far more acceptable to spend time drinking before going clubbing, buying cheaper drinks elsewhere to reach the perfect level of drunk right before going into the club. It is likely that Oxford struggles with this issue more than most cities. Oxford clubs close at 3am, and can be practically empty before midnight. It is very much possible to stay drunk for three hours without having to buy an extra shot. Between having to leave your spot on the dancefloor, and the high prices of drinks, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that it just doesn’t seem worth it. 

It is true to say that the loss of Atik will be felt throughout the student population. Next year’s freshers will never know the feeling of being shoved halfway across the dancefloor by a group of rowers. If the economy does not improve, it may be that we see more clubs and pubs closing, and the night-life of Oxford may drop even further than the low standard we have come to know and love.

Image credit: Mark Angelo Sampan via Pexels.