When a company says they are ‘considering options’, you can be fairly sure they have already made their minds up.
That’s more or less what The Rank Group, who own the Mecca Bingo brand, have said about their historic bingo club on Arlington Road in Camden, and now, regular customers are extremely concerned.
It’s no secret that the cost of living crises is making people pull their purse strings tighter, and especially in London where living is more expensive in general anyway.
Bingo halls around the country suffered terribly during covid, and footfall hasn’t picked up in the way it was hoped at many halls, making the recovery very slow, if recovery is happening at all.
For Mecca in Camden, the clock may have already ticked on too far.
Closure Threat Causes Shock
On Friday 8th of September, a spokesperson from the Rank Group confirmed that the future of Mecca Bingo in Camden is in question.
As this news filtered down to staff, and then to customers, it was met with total shock.
The site has been a bingo hall for over 60 years, and in North London where so many other bingo halls have already shut down, it’s a beacon of joy for players who would otherwise be too far away from a hall to play.
As evidence of this, one customer said:
“I used to go the one in the Cally. They closed that down. Then I went to the Essex Road. They closed that down. Then I come here. I’ll find something to do, shopping or something.”
Cricklewood and Wood Green are the closest alternatives, but they are a long bus ride or an difficult tube ride away, and for elderly people who may struggle with long journeys that could be a hurdle too far. Not to mention the additional cost of transport.
Neither are walkable at over an hour and a half each way.
Another loyal customer was absolutely heartbroken about the news:
“It’s a lifeline for me and the community, for so many people – Kentish Town, Archway, Camden, it really is,” she said.
“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.
“Honestly I am heartbroken. The staff are our friends. The manager is fun and witty – he’s on point. It’s not easy to get on the bus or train for a lot of the people. So I’m looking around wondering if I am going to see any of these people again.”
It’s not only the customers either; there are 23 jobs that will be lost if and when the closure goes ahead.
So what has instigated this?
Why Mecca Camden Might Close
It’s all about money, it always is.
The sad fact is that if not enough people turn out to play, the business can’t survive, no matter how badly it wants to. We reported on a similar situation forcing a number of closures back in February.
The Rank Group have been hit especially hard by recent events since most of their businesses are physical – bingo halls and high street casinos – so they just can’t afford to keep a site open if it isn’t pulling its’ weight financially.
Richard McElroy is the operations director at Mecca, and he explained it thus:
“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.”
The company have tried to find other options, such as subletting the top floor as an events venue to raise extra funds, but it’s just not working.
It is rumoured that Secret Cinema, a production company that produces live immersive theatrical events based on well loved films and TV shows, are interested in leasing the venue, but so far nothing has been confirmed.
If that rumour is true, it could be the case that Mecca are considering returning to the site after Secret Cinema are done with it and releasing some financial pressure in the meantime, but equally, that could just be wishful thinking.