‘We can’t escape this mess’: Shoreditch residents hit out as venue wins new booze licence

Sandbox entrance on Commercial Street Bridge. Image: courtesy Shoreditch Community Association

A venue in Shoreditch has been given an alcohol licence for more pop-up marketing events – despite objections from residents.

Sandbox, which sits on Quaker Street at the border of Hackney and Tower Hamlets, was given the green light in the face of concerns from residents’ groups over anti-social behaviour (ASB).

Hackney Council’s licensing sub-committee gave permission for up to six events each month after a wrought negotiation between the applicant and representatives of Shoreditch Community Association and Spitalfields Residents Against Anti-Social Behaviour (SPIRE).

Alcohol supply will be allowed between 11am and 10.30pm, before the venue closes at 11pm.

Described as a community and arts events venue for hire, Sandbox is located near Shoreditch High Street station and Braithwaite Street, which residents’ groups said is riddled with drug-dealing, noise, public urination and vomiting after dark.

Objecting to the plans, Shoreditch residents’ representative Louise Garrett said those living and working in the area “cannot escape this mess”.

“Cumulative impact is real. We live with it every day. Children walk through it on their way to school. Old people make their way back from the supermarket at 7pm and they are dodging puke and pee left, right and centre,” she said at a licensing sub-committee meeting on 29 January.

“I’m not interested if it’s convenient for the operator, I’m interested if it’s convenient for my residents, and it isn’t. This is a very unsafe, well-documented ASB hotspot,” she added.

Applicant Damon Borley, who manages Sandbox, defended the plans, saying it will not be a permanent bar, and some events might not include any alcohol at all depending on the needs of each client.

“We will have security, because we really don’t want some random people to come in from the surrounding area, undesirables basically,” he told the sub-committee.

Alongside security, the events are open to a guest list only, with capacity for up to 75 people – although the average number of guests is expected to be around 30.

Tower Hamlets Council recently refused Borley a premises licence for another events space called Carwash, located only yards from Sandbox along Quaker Street.

Garrett said: “This shows the lottery of licensing between boroughs and is why this service needs to move back from local authority control and into independent magistrates.

“Both Tower Hamlets and Hackney have cumulative impact zones for this street and they have interpreted residents opinions completely differently according to their local politics.

“Alcohol licensing and its impact on users and communities is a health issue and it should not be politicised.”

Garrett was concerned over the link between Sandbox and Carwash, but Borley said the two venues would be connected only “occasionally”, and each would have separate toilet facilities to try to curb public urination.

Sandbox’s owners are keen to provide the space for community events, which they have done in the past, including for dance groups and fashion students to hold a degree show.

Borley said the venue will “never be open seven days a week” and is not a “destination for drinking” because drinks are supplied for consumption on the premises as part of an event, and occasionally off-sales in sealed containers during alcohol brand launch events.

However, chairman of SPIRE Randall Thiel said there is “no guarantee” that guests will not walk away from the premises with sealed containers and consume them on the surrounding streets.

SPIRE agreed to withdraw its objection if the number of events per calendar month was capped at six.

“Business can sometimes enhance the surroundings. If this is the best thing to happen on Quaker Street, I’m optimistic. Let’s give it four to six months and see if it improves,” Thiel said.

Garrett said she felt like she was “being walked over” with the decision, but she eventually agreed with the limit of six events as Sandbox only has six years remaining on the lease at the site.

The venue is required to have three security staff, to not hold more than three of the six permitted events on Fridays and Saturdays each month, and to submit a dispersal policy to the licensing authority.

It must also submit a quarterly events diary for both Sandbox and Carwash, display contact details for any complaints, and the licence-holder has to arrange and publicise two liaison meetings each year with local residents to address any concerns.

The sub-committee made positive note of Borley’s community efforts, including cleaning the streets close to the premises and an offer to pay for urinals on Braithwaite Street.

Sandbox has also been encouraged to offer the council’s night-time training to staff, engage in “meaningful dialogue” with residents, help reduce negative impacts, carry out an acoustic assessment, and support the use of sustainable food packaging and containers.

Update: this article was amended at 10.25am on 7 February 2024. It previously stated that the licence for Carwash was granted, when in fact it was refused.