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Despite almost a decade of fighting, and the support of countless celebrities like Grace Jones, beloved live music venue The George Tavern in Stepney yet again has another battle on its hands.
Having fought developers for nine years on one side of the venue, 66-year-old landlady Pauline Forster has now discovered that plans are being made for a large block of flats and offices on the other side of the 600-year-old venue, which is mentioned in the writings of Chaucer, Pepys and Dickens.
The fear is that nearby residential buildings would result in noise complaints and therefore put their late licence – and any future gigs and club nights – in jeopardy. The Magic Numbers, John Cooper Clarke, Nick Cave, Anna Calvi, and most recently Slaves, have all played at the historic venue. The George is a protected Grade II-listed building, meaning that options for soundproofing – even fitting double-glazed windows – are strictly limited.
After finally winning an appeal in July this year against flats being built to the left of the building, Forster faces the prospect of a large multi-use development to the right.
In May, Bluecroft Developments successfully bid for the empty 12,000 square-foot council office block that backs on to the pub’s beer garden. Its plan is to build 38 flats, with a ‘buffer zone’ of offices closest to the pub, in a development estimated to be worth £20 million. According to Forster, directors of the company visited The George recently and left behind their business cards (which were printed on the back of Lego figures). Bluecroft told us that they were just meeting a need for residential demand in ‘an area undergoing extensive regeneration’.
‘I’m devastated.’ says Forster. ‘I will need to pay for another sound report, another light report, write my objection, and then find a lawyer to look over it.’ She has previously relied on people volunteering their expertise pro-bono. But like anyone wishing to put on nightlife in London at the moment, she’s accumulated a huge store of knowledge as well: ‘I’m going to make sure I don’t leave any stone unturned. I’ve now got a lot of knowledge and experience under my belt. I am a force to be reckoned with.’
Once again, Forster will need to plunge into the boxes and boxes of paperwork piled high in her office above the venue from almost a decade-long fight and start preparing her objection. She will have five weeks to respond to the planning application, once it appears on the Tower Hamlets website.
'I’ve got a lot of knowledge and experience under my belt. I am a force to be reckoned with.’
If the build does go ahead, a possible option to maintain the venue would be a similar agreement that Ministry of Sound reached with a nearby development – where new residents signed a clause preventing them from submitting noise nuisance claims. Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, was key in pushing through the 41-storey building despite Southwark Council refusing planning permission. Perhaps in the same way, current Mayor Sadiq Khan might take an interest in this project?
The floors above the pub enjoy a rare 360-degree light meaning it’s a prime location for photoshoots. Kate Moss, Grandmaster Flash, Georgia Jagger, Justin Timberlake, Grimes, Amy Winehouse and Grace Jones have all been photographed at The George. Clean Bandit was the most recent, shooting their ‘Rockabye’ video last month. Sean Paul, who features on the track, proudly wore one of the famous ‘Save The George Tavern’ protest t-shirts.
These tops have been a vital component of the long-running campaign with the profits from each sale going towards legal fees. T-shirt revenue alone has cut her outstanding legal fee bill from £27,000 to £14,000. Forster personally prints each one in a room above the pub. ‘We run a tight ship here, I mean, I don’t even draw a salary, this is my home. We’ve fought such a long hard battle for the legacy of London, to keep the door open for the community and musicians.’
‘When I first heard about the initial planning application back in 2007, the first person I rang was Amy Winehouse. I went round to her house straight away, she lived nearby then, and chatted to her and her hairdresser who said ‘get a shirt done’. The next day we had a delivery of a great big box. Kate Moss put one on and we got in the Evening Standard that day. Without those people I doubt we would still be here.’
The venue is not just a hit with celebs, it regularly ranks in publically voted awards and has been shortlisted in this year’s Time Out’s Love London Awards for Best Bar. ‘You need so much energy to fight, to not let them get the better of you. My god, I don’t want to spend my whole life doing this but I can’t let The George Tavern go.’
Forster is encouraging people to send photos of themselves wearing the campaign t-shirts for a giant collage that will hang in the venue. For details visit www.savethegeorgetavern.com