Nowadays, Camden is known as the hipster capital of London, with people boasting long beards and gingham shirts more likely to be found wandering the streets that anyone else. It wasn’t always like that, however, which is why Camden Town Hall was the site of a bingo hall for 60 years. The news has emerged, however, that they bingo hall, run by Mecca Bingo, will be closing its doors for the final time; much to the disappointment of the people who regularly head there in order to see their friends and enjoy the art of the bingo caller reading out the numbers.
With trading tough across the entire hospitality sector in the wake of the global health crisis, businesses are having to make tough decisions. The Rank Group, which is the parent company of Mecca Bingo and Grosvenor Casinos, has struggled to recoup losses made not only during that period but also thanks to the cost of living crisis. As a result, it has decided that there is no longer a place on its roster for the Camden-based bingo hall, leading many people to wonder what it is that will take up residence in the large space on Arlington Road next if the bingo caller is to fall silent.
With the likes of the global health crisis and the cost of living crisis having a particularly bad impact on the people that tend to enjoy playing bingo, it was always going to be a struggle for Mecca to continue to operate all of their sites around the country. The advent of alternative forms of bingo that were designed to appeal to the youth also helped to take away business from the more traditional bingo varieties. It is little wonder, therefore, that Mecca has started to look at the various places that it has bingo halls and question whether keeping them open is the right thing to do. Richard McElroy, who is the Operations Director at Mecca Bingo, admitted that it was difficult to justify keeping all bingo sites open. He said,
Trading has been tough across hospitality, and regular bingo players have been slow to return to halls since the pandemic. Sadly, we are not seeing the footfall required to ensure the continued operation of our Camden club as a bingo hall, and therefore we are investigating alternative options for the site. The club will remain open to customers and fully operational until a decision has been reached.
Quite what an ‘alternative option’ might entail isn’t clear, but the closure of the Hackney site is the latest in a string of other Mecca Bingo halls that have seen their balls chopped. Places such as Doncaster, Chester and Hull have all seen their bingo halls shut down, so Hackney is just the latest in a long line of sites that aren’t seen as viable in the long-term. The company has tried to come up with alternative ways of making money, including leasing out the upstairs for venues and gigs to names such as MC Neat and DJ Luck, but all to no avail. The company Secret Cinema is reportedly in talks to take over the least.
A Lifeline Lost
It is entirely understandable why Mecca Bingo would only be looking at the bottom line, given the fact that it is a business first and foremost, but there is no doubt in the minds of those that go there that they are losing something important with the hall’s closure. Obviously the 23 people who work there won’t be happy to bid goodbye to their jobs, with working in alternate locations or getting a redundancy payout most likely for them, but it is the customers of the bingo hall who will feel the loss most keenly. One said, “It’s a lifeline for me and the community, for so many people…It’s hard with my knee replacement, hard to get motivated to come out. That’s what this place gave me if you see what I mean.”
Another, who was part of the oldest rock band in the world’, was left in a state of shock by the news. Sylvia Beaton, who made it to the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent with her band The Zimmers, said, “What this place is for people is a place to get out. I am 81. I come here Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays. It’s freedom for me. I get out and about. I see my friends. Have a nice cup of tea. Well, I bring my own tea and sandwiches. But now, well, everyone’s shocked.” The days of her time on the TV with The Zimmers are long gone, but now so is her bingo hall.