Dancing and Disinfecting? CODE’s Simon Tomlinson on keeping upbeat for the city’s clubbing scene

With restaurants and pubs under strict social distancing guidelines only recently receiving the go-ahead by the UK government, a return for bustling nightclub floors and busy bars seems a long time away as things stand. But is there cause to be optimistic? Elliot Lucas spoke to Simon Tomlinson, a member of the team who brought CODE, Molly Malone’s and the soon-to-open Mr Wilson’s to the Steel City’s party scene, about how things are looking for the city’s late-night venues.

I know you’re planning on opening a new venue called Mr.Wilson’s. Is that still going ahead?
Yeah, it will be on West Street. We’re hoping to have it open by the end of August. It’s going to be a two-floor venue, a really high-spec cocktail bar at ground level. The finish in there will be like no other bar in the city. Hopefully when you’re in there it won’t even feel like you’re on West Street at all; in fact, it won’t even feel like you’re in Sheffield. Downstairs, we’re going for something like a 1920’s style speakeasy bar. It will be more intimate, and the music won’t be extremely loud down there. It will be somewhere you can meet up with friends or take partners on a date. Obviously West Street on a Saturday night gets really busy, so hopefully it’ll provide somewhere to get away from all the madness.

The speakeasy vibe is one very much in demand these days.
Right! And traditionally if you’re a VIP in a club, that means a booth overlooking the dancefloor with bottles of spirits with sparklers in them, etc. I think when you get to be around my age, you want to be treated like a VIP, but you don’t necessarily want sparklers and all that show-offy stuff. We’ll treat every customer who goes there like a VIP, just without all the noise.

Makes sense as I guess you’ve got CODE which is great for the big clubbing nights, then Molly Malone’s as a bit of a party bar, and now this venture which feels a bit more exclusive.
Yeah, well CODE has been very successful, which we’re happy with. We’ve become the main club for Hallam students, and that’s fantastic. Molly Malone’s, on the other hand, is somewhere where you can have fun whether you’re 18 or 80, singing the Irish classics at the top of your lungs and having a messy night. And of course, Mr. Wilson’s is more about having a relaxed, sophisticated type of night. It’s like Ecclesall road was 10 years ago.

Mr Wilson’s is still scheduled to open by the end of August

Do you need social distancing to end before you can reopen Code, or you do have a plan to implement it in the club?
We’ll probably be reopening towards September, but there’s been no guidance from the government yet on nightclubs.

Say that the government allows nightclubs to reopen, but on the condition that social distancing at one-metre is observed. Would that be realistic?
It’s difficult really. The most important thing for us is the safety of our staff and customers. Obviously we want to open, but we also have to be realistic about what the experience of the club would be like. How good of a night the customer can have is the most important thing to us. Which is why I think with one-metre social distancing, I don’t think any clubs can re-open. It’s extremely difficult to police social distancing in that kind of environment. Whereas in bars, with customers being seated and table service, it’s a lot more achievable.

Do you think there will be less clubs on the scene by the time things re-open? I’m sure many will struggle to pay the bills with no customers.
It’s been quite weird actually. Corporation, our competitors but also our friends, have been quite active in lobbying for more support from the government. When they initially brought the business grants in, it was based on the rateable value of the venue itself, which obviously excluded nightclubs. We’ve been very fortunate with Code. We’ve been extremely busy and because we’ve got different venues as well, the club’s in quite a healthy state. We’re ready to open as soon as we’re given the green light. But some clubs will definitely struggle if the restrictions remain in place for a few months.

“With one-metre social distancing, I don’t think any clubs can re-open.”

So overall, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the clubbing scene after lockdown?
I’m optimistic! I’m 30 myself, and it’s been a bit of a weird 15 years for clubs in Sheffield. But they’ve always bounced back no matter what’s happened. As long as customers feel safe going into a club, I think we’ll bounce back extremely strongly.

Look at what’s happened as lockdown has been eased in different sectors, such as when shops were allowed to open; there could have been an argument there that not many people would want to go to the shops, because they’ve had twelve weeks to buy stuff online, but every time something has been eased they’ve been extremely busy. I don’t see why it would be any different for clubs and bars.

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