Sugarhouse Interview: Damon Fairley

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LUSU VP (Union Development) Damon Fairley sat down with SCAN to discuss the recent successes and disappointment regarding student union club, the Sugarhouse. Speaking to SCAN, Fairley described that there had been some “complacency” regarding the club last year, but that hopes were high for this year.

Fairley praised the importance of student feedback with regards to recent decisions that have been made to the club. “I feel the Sugarhouse really has to be responsive to student feedback because, in the past where perhaps the Sugarhouse has been doing extremely well, I think there’s a tendency for people to become quite complacent, rather than think, how can we change things and make them better, how can we continually improve?

“Whereas what’s really great about the Sugarhouse currently is that we’ve been given a real opportunity to change things and mix things up so we can really focus on student feedback, what students want.” Nevertheless, the Sugarhouse has been one of many clubs in Lancaster to feel the pinch due to diminishing student spending with regards to nights out. “Although the Sugarhouse is still doing extremely well, it is obviously taking less money than it used to, but that’s just because a trend has caught up with us in town. It’s actually been really positive I think for the venue.”

The Sugarhouse’s position as a student union owned entity is something that Fairley clearly believes is heavily positive towards the experience of Lancaster students. “100% of our commercial services go back into the student union, so that’s LUSU Living, the shops, Sugarhouse. And some goes into to funding societies, that sort of stuff. And that is why this term we are really pushing the 100% campaign to tell students that every pound you spend at LUSU, all of it goes back into the student experience, through the Students’ Union, so it’s just a bit of an incentive.”

The financial success of the business is an area where Fairley believed people had been told mis-truths. Despite rumours over the last year suggesting financial instability regarding the Sugarhouse, Fairley was keen to put to bed this false information. “It is still extremely profitable. The Sugarhouse last year, in terms of profit, made just under £100,000.

“It always makes money year on year. What happened was, I think, two years ago we made round about £200,000, last year we made about £100,000. So obviously there was a big decrease in profit but at the same time we’ve been bucking the trend in town that actually there are fewer students going out in general. We look around the other bars on certain nights and think ‘where is everyone?’ and we’re further restricted because we have the student-only policy. We only let students in so we don’t actually get any of the local crowd.”

In order to ensure a keen and thriving student market for the nightclub, Fairley stated the impact of making big changes based directly on the feedback of student customers, most specifically for the rebranding of the student night on Wednesdays, from Jinxed to Whoops. “Well hopefully everyone’s seen the rebranding of the Sugarhouse. On the Wednesdays we’ve gone from Jinxed to Whoops Wednesdays. Which is based on that we want Wednesdays to be our cheaper night midweek, typical student night.

“The Whoops things is based on those Supermarket mark down stickers, yellow with the barcode. It’s that style of thing, cheap and cheerful. We’ve taken on a lot of student feedback about the fact they want different DJs on different nights and the music to be different so we’ve gone down the line of light-hearted cheese on the Wednesday.

“What a lot of student groups  have said is that the Sugarhouse didn’t feel like their venue. It just felt like another club so this year we’ve made a conscious effort to make sure the Sugarhouse to tailoring its offering. So hopefully for the Big Nights Out hopefully the JCRs will have noticed big college banners everywhere, we’ve got a lot of stuff on the screens. Equally we’re looking at stuff like if they’re wanting to hold events in the Sugarhouse. We can get decorations in for them, we can just make it special. What we want the Sugarhouse to be is where it really is the first-port-of-call venue. It’s like coming home if that makes sense.

“Last year, under the old team there was things called student carousels where we spoke to a lot of students about various things to do with LUSU and the Sugarhouse was one of them. When we do a lot of Sugarhouse feedback it’s generally what people communicate to us on Twitter, Facebook, what they email officers. I’ve had lots of one to one discussions with various people like JCRs, even just students that are interested.”

As well as the introduction of the Whoops night to Wednesday evenings, Fairley also stressed the student impetus on changes to Saturday nights in the nightclub. “Saturday is very much the takeover day. One of the rooms, every couple of weeks, we let one of the student groups takeover. So for example one’s we’ve already got pencilled in are Oxjam, who will do an event in their with some live bands, and for Black History Month, there will be an event in their that is being held by the ACS (Afro-Caribbean Society) and Omena the new Cross Campus Officer. So we’ll hopefully never get the same experience on a Saturday. They will be different each week, obviously with elements of consistency, but there will always be something different going on.”
Furthermore, Fairley believed that success and changes to the Sugarhouse could have a positive rather than negative effect on the college bars across campus.

“We’ve changed emphasis this year because sometimes it’s been seen as campus versus the Sugarhouse and it’s really not like that. We’re looking at restarting the ‘campus to town’ thing. So people start their night out in their college bar and then go over to the Sugarhouse. It’s something that less emphasis was put on, and it’s something that we just needed to someone to look at it and address it and we will have meetings with facilities about that, about how the Sugarhouse and campus can link up better. We’re not actually competing with each other because both the offerings are completely different. Even though we have the Sugarhouse I wouldn’t say we are protectionist over it. We understand that the student experience is far more than the Sugarhouse.”

Fairley strongly believes that the start to his tenure as a LUSU full-time officer can also be a positive start to the year for Sugarhouse, and one which hopefully continue for many years. “I think this year is going to be a really good year for the Sugarhouse. Last year I think a lot of information went round about the Sugarhouse not making as much money as it did in previous years, but that’s actually been a really positive thing for the Sugarhouse. Now all the nights have changed we’ve been very responsive to student feedback and actually Sugar is in a really good place. It’s had a fantastic freshers week. I’ve heard so much positive stuff about it and I hope it carries on.”

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