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Nightingale charges Switchboard peppercorn rent


“When the opened in Thorp Street (in 1981) was invited along with to take rooms there for a peppercorn rent for something like £100 a year. There was a stretch for about 3 years when the declined to ask for the rent – they saw that as part of their social remit. The was unique.

They never saw themselves as a commercial venue, they saw themselves as a social organisation that provided a safe space with alcohol. A gay working men’s club! It’s hard to imagine that given the glitz and glamour of the current . There were originally some women members at the Nightingale but not many. The need for a woman to be signed into the Nightingale by a male member only came about in the 1980s. There was a growing sense of political pressure for gay rights and a reaction from more established gay men that they didn’t want to be associated with anything political, and a lot of lesbians were seen to be political.

The women at were fairly philosophical about the move to the because of the low rent. remained above the in Thorp Street until it moved to its new premises in Kent Street in 1995. then moved just further down to an office block on Hurst Street. The gave a golden handshake that set us up for about 2 years. I was secretary to for about 3 years. The old offices at the could hear the disco come 10 O’clock and the rain came in. There was a labyrinth of stairwells and little rooms above the some of which were used and some weren’t. It wasn’t decorated but it was almost free and there was enough room for 3 operators. By the time we moved in 1995 we had built up again to 20 or so operators, the highest we ever got to was 29. There was a minimum of one line open every night but on most nights we had two lines open or on occasions we had three. We secured a lottery grant for about 3 years that enabled us to pay for a 3rd line and some training – we did some joint work with a local GUM clinic, and it enabled us to pay for some publicity. It was quite a good period in the mid to late 1990s”.

Contributed by: Lyn David Thomas, 47

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