Campaigning for Camden’s LGBTQ+ history and future
Grassroots efforts to protect the Black Cap began even while it was still open, but it was the owners’ shocking and unnecessary decision to close the venue without warning in April 2015 that launched the #WeAreTheBlackCap campaign. Since then we’ve defeated every attempt to redevelop or repurpose the building,
we’ve kept the spirit of the Cap alive and visible in Camden Town, and we’ve worked quietly behind the scenes to plan a flourishing, sustainable future for the Black Cap as an LGBTQ+ pub, club, cabaret, and community space.
The Black Cap Community Benefit Society (BCC) are proud and excited that seven years of voluntary campaigning have resulted in the potential reopening of The Black Cap.
Thanks directly to campaigners’, the possibility now exists to reopen the Cap as a five-storey building, building one its inspirational 60-year plus LGBTQ+ history, and local/national/global brand recognition, at the heart of Camden Town.
The Black Cap will benefit from a late license, Asset of Community Value status, and sui generis planning protections (ringfencing the whole building’s use as an LGBTQ+ pub, club, cabaret, and community space and suppressing its market value), with pro bono survey work in hand, plus strong GLA and local authority engagement and support, solid LGBTQ+ and local community interest, engagement, and goodwill, and guaranteed positive press coverage.
BCC has recently started working with new business partners, with the goal of bringing about the re-opening and restoration of The Black Cap as a community pub, club, cabaret & community venue (the “Black Cap Project”).
The partners in the Black Cap Project have agreed shared values and aims to help them work together, including:
- the core values agreed to protect and guide the project through to the re-opening of The Black Cap.
- the community aims have been agreed by the parties’ to help the realisation of these values; and
- the structural and operational aims that we believe will help make this happen
These form the basis of a memorandum of understanding which sets out the parties’ intentions, agreed roles and actions towards securing the building. Once the building has been secured by the partnership (initially as a lease but with the longer-term intention of freehold ownership for the community) the plan will move into income generation mode for the purposes of refurbishment and then relaunch.
This page will be updated as the Black Cap Project progresses.
At all stages, we will continue to engage with and seek input from the communities that the Black Cap should serve.
On 18 April 2015, the Saturday after the Black Cap was closed, hundreds of people (and a double-decker bus!) flooded the street outside the Black Cap to protest against its closure and the closures of many other LGBTQ+ venues in recent years. The protest was covered in the Independent, This Is Cabaret, and the Camden New Journal. Around the same time a petition was launched, which over the years has gathered more than 15,000 signatures.
This alone would have been enough to show the strength of feeling in support of the Cap, but it was just the beginning. Campaign supporters came back the next Saturday… and the Saturday after… and the Saturday after…
These ‘vigils’ have been a regular feature of Camden High Street ever since, occurring almost every Saturday afternoon for seven years. From 2pm to 4pm one or more campaigners stand outside the Black Cap handing out flyers, talking to passers-by about the campaign, and taking photographs of those who want to demonstrate their support.
Support the campaign by joining a vigil! Drop by any time between 2 and 4pm any Saturday (check our social media beforehand, just in case of unexpected cancellation). Have a chat, pose for a photo, or help us hand out flyers!.
We also sometimes have bigger events to promote the campaign or to raise funds to keep it running. These include special vigils a few times every year outside the Cap with live music and speeches – typically for the anniversary of the Cap’s closure and other special occasions like Halloween or Christmas. We have also held other events such as ‘Not Another Night At The Cap’ cabaret shows, photo exhibitions, bus tours, picnics, parades, and pickets..
Watch this site and our social media for announcements of special events!.
Even before the Black Cap closed we were fighting to protect the venue from redevelopment. It all began with the previous owner applying for planning permission to turn the upper floors into luxury flats – an application we helped to defeat.
Then we won an Asset of Community Value designation for the building, confirming the Cap’s importance to the Camden and LGBTQ+ communities, and legally preventing the owner from selling it without giving a community group the chance to buy it first.
Campaigners speaking to Camden Council’s culture and environment committee in July 2018
Camden Council’s decision to confirm the building’s ‘sui generis’ planning use.
To get around that, the owner then tried to lease the building to a series of tenants who wanted to turn it into a café, a wine bar, and a supermarket. Every time, the potential tenants backed out when we showed them the strength of community opposition to their plans.
Next the owner tried to undermine the Black Cap’s ‘sui generis’ planning classification, which means that its use can’t be changed without planning permission. They asked Camden Council to declare that this only applied to the ground floor, making it easier to redevelop the rest of the building. Working with Camden LGBT Forum, we organized former staff, customers, and performers to submit thousands of words of evidence proving that the entire building has always been a unique combination of pub, nightclub, cabaret performance venue, and community space.
Working with Camden Council and the whole community, we have ensured that the Black Cap has strong legal protections to keep it as a multi-storey LGBTQ+ pub, nightclub, cabaret performance venue, and community space. Again and again we have beaten attempts to weaken or remove those protections and to turn the building into something else. The new owners of the building recognize this and have committed to respect those protections. This is a major victory and it leaves campaigners free to focus our efforts on practical planning to re-opening – but we remain ready to resist any further attempts at redevelopment.
Another major strand of campaign activity over the years has been to investigate the mysterious web of finances behind the purchase and closure of the Black Cap.
For about a decade, the Black Cap was for practical purposes owned by a man called Stephen Cox through various different companies. He bought the building in 2010 through a company called Faucet Inn, but after the Black Cap closed in 2015 it emerged that by that time Faucet Inn was only the operator of the business. By checking public records we discovered that the actual ownership had been transferred to another of Cox’s companies called Kicking Horse 3. This company was registered in Jersey, where almost all company records are secret, making it more difficult for us to find out anything about it.
We did, however, manage to trace the finance behind the purchase of the building in 2010. Cox did not buy the Black Cap using only his own companies’ money: working with Transparency International and the Ham & High newspaper, we found that he had a mortgage loan from an offshore company called Vollin Holdings, registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Vollin Holdings was owned by Russian billionaires Alexander Abramov and Aleksandr Frolov, whose links to the Putin government and extensive UK property holdings have recently been featured in the Guardian. By the time this chain of ownership was revealed, Abramov and Frolov – perhaps realising the truth was going to come out and not wanting to be publicly known as owners of an LGBTQ+ venue – had sold the mortgage to another overseas company called Dragonfly Finance, based in Luxembourg.
We then approached a number of Dragonfly’s investors to make them aware that the company was helping to finance the ongoing closure of the Black Cap against the clear wishes of local and LGBTQ+ communities. Not long afterwards, whether because of our pressure or some other reason, the mortgage was transferred again, this time to a mysterious overseas company called RS Luxembourg II.
A snapshot of a Land Registry record for the Black Cap from 2019 showing Kicking Horse 3 as the owner and RS Luxembourg II as the finance lender.
A snapshot of the Transparency International report ‘Faulty Towers: Understanding the impact of overseas corruption on the London property market’ (2017) describing the overseas finance behind the purchase of the Black Cap.
Meanwhile, we were keeping an eye on Stephen Cox’s little business empire and it was clearly struggling. Though we couldn’t see the financial situation of Jersey-based Kicking Horse 3, we could see the public company records of his UK-based companies, and there were increasing signs of trouble. We identified two patterns: first, many of Cox’s pub redevelopment projects were failing or getting stuck, meaning no returns for his financial backers; secondly, his companies kept delaying or missing deadlines for filing their accounts with Companies House, and when a company had done this several times it tended to go insolvent soon afterwards.
In summer 2018 we wrote to the secret backers of RS Luxembourg II telling them we knew who they were, pointing out the negative trends in Cox’s companies, and urging them to cut their losses by telling Cox to sell or lease the Black Cap to a credible LGBTQ+ operator.
In November 2018 we predicted that Faucet Inn, which had twice moved the deadline for filing its accounts and then missed even that deadline, would be the next to go: sure enough, the very next month it went into administration. The pattern continued with other Cox pubs and companies closing. In 2019-2020 Cox made a last-ditch attempt to extract some value from the Black Cap by filing appeals against the Asset of Community Value and the ‘sui generis’ planning classification (see ‘Resisting redevelopment‘ above) but both failed and finally, in 2021, Kicking Horse 3 itself went into receivership.
This means Stephen Cox is no longer in charge of the building. It is now in the hands of receivers, whose job is to get the best return for the company’s assets, including the Black Cap. This is what now gives us the chance to buy or lease the building at last.
Our campaign has never been purely obstructive. We’ve always been willing to talk in good faith to the owners of the Black Cap, and have tried several times over the years to open negotiations. Each time we tried this while Stephen Cox was still in charge (see ‘Following the money‘ above), discussions came to nothing because Cox was set on turning the upper floors of the building into luxury flats.
There were also many times over the years when credible third parties approached us, interested in leasing or buying the Black Cap from Cox. Every time we tried to put them in touch with him so they could discuss terms, they ended up abandoning their efforts in frustration. In some cases their letters and calls were simply ignored. In some cases they were told they could view the property but then when they turned up there was nobody there to let them in. Sometimes they asked for information that they needed in order to make an offer, and that information was not provided.
In summer 2017, after much effort by campaigners and mediation by Camden Council, Cox did agree to advertise the Black Cap for a 25-year lease. But almost immediately this began to look like a hollow gesture. It took nearly two months for Cox’s agents to even issue the marketing materials for the lease. Over the following months, we again began to hear from reputable LGBTQ+ venue operators that they had approached the agents about the lease but had been put off or dismissed. When asked for his side of the story, Cox insisted that none of the prospective leaseholders was financially viable, but he wouldn’t explain his basis for saying this or his criteria for viability. Crunching the numbers ourselves, we concluded that he must have been holding out for an unrealistically high offer that would only be achievable by a mass-market non-LGBTQ+ pub or restaurant chain.
But now, with Cox out of the picture, we are back at the negotiating table again and working on a strong offer to put to the receivers in charge of the building (see ‘Our plan‘ above).
The Black Cap Community Benefit Society, normally called ‘Black Cap Community’, is a non-profit company created to hold campaign funds in a transparent and accountable way and to provide a vehicle for community ownership of the Black Cap.
A community benefit society is a type of company regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and owned by its members on a democratic one-member-one-vote basis. It’s a common structure for community ownership of pubs and other businesses. Black Cap Community is registered with FCA number 8525. It was incorporated in 2020 to replace the campaign’s previous corporate vehicle, the Black Cap Foundation. Documents from Black Cap Community’s first annual members’ meeting in September 2021 are publicly available.
Black Cap Community is run on a day-to-day basis by an unpaid committee on behalf of its members. We are always keen to hear from people who would like to join the committee. We would especially like to improve committee representation of London’s diverse LGBTQ+ communities, particularly those who tend to get under-served or pushed to the edges, including women, trans people, people of colour, disabled people, and migrants. The Black Cap was always one of London’s most inclusive and diverse LGBTQ+ venues and that must continue when it re-opens.
For more about how to get involved with the committee or the campaign, go to How to help.
Meet our current committee:
Alex is the one with all the hats and a large vocal range, often seen and heard making a song and dance about the loss of the Black Cap and its historic importance to the LGBTQ+ and wider community. He is an entertainer, writer and producer, and an LGBTQ+ campaigner and activist. Lives in SE London but his heart is still in Camden, where he lived for 25 years.
Ben mostly works behind the scenes, helping shape our reopening plans and relations with business partners, community contacts and the council and GLA. He’s a writer and researcher and lives south of the river.
Jamie is the one who mostly stands outside the Black Cap handing out flyers. He also co-hosts the Black Cap Community Hub. Jamie is an education lawyer and lives in Camden.
Lazare is the one with fabulous colour coordination who brings his brilliant energy to keep the campaign fabulous. He is a former wunderkind – a ballet dancer with 4 master’s degrees in humanities, a text-aholic (journalist in different media, DJ, translator, interpreter, proofreader), a personal stylist, and maybe there were more. Now he is an avid Camdenite, tour guide in arts, and a mixologist.
In collaboration with Castlehaven Community Association, we host the Black Cap Community Hub, a free weekly community space in Camden for LGBTQ+ people and friends. It takes place every Monday evening at Castlehaven Community Centre and online.
Every week there’s an optional activity like making collages, blackout poetry, or watching a film. Some weeks there’s also a visiting service like haircuts, clothes swaps, or sexual health screening.
The Hub is a sober space with snacks and hot and cold soft drinks. There’s level access, an accessible toilet, and quiet space available. Sessions are very informal and you can arrive and leave any time between 6pm and 9pm.
For more information including accessibility, travel, and coronavirus precautions, visit the Hub’s website.
Over the years we’ve collaborated with a range of other grassroots LGBTQ+ community groups and campaigns, community groups based in or near Camden, and people and groups working in cabaret and the performing arts. We’re always interested in working with people who share similar goals. Past collaborations include:
- the Friends Of The Joiners Arms (supporting each other at public protests and in the planning committees of Camden and Tower Hamlets),
- the Outside Project (helping out with their shelter and community centre and jointly running weekly socials in Camden),
- Castlehaven Community Association (hosting the Black Cap Community Hub, among other things),
- the Arts Project (organising and hosting a performance for the launch of their Loudest Whispers 2019 exhibition),
- forum+ (working together on planning hearings for the Black Cap and arranging events as part of their LGBT History Month programmes),
- Lesbians & Gays Support The Migrants (providing meeting space),
- Museum Of Homelessness (contributing to their Truths Of The Last Ten Years exhibition),
- the Cocoa Butter Club (providing rehearsal space),
- Zodiac bar (supporting their planning application)
- and staging performances with many wonderful artists and collectives including Loud & Queerly, Dave Lynn, Miss Krystal Ball, Ebony Rose Dark, Doctor Woof, Zayn Phallic, Lenard Pink, Chloe Wing, Evie Lake, and others.
If you’d like to discuss how we might collaborate, please get in touch!
#WeAreTheBlackCap and Friends Of The Joiners Arms marching together at Pride in London, 2018
#WeAreTheBlackCap at Outsider Pride 2021, with the Outside Project, African Rainbow Family, Queer House Party, Intersex Equality Rights UK, and others
#WeAreTheBlackCap at a live recording of the Guilty Feminist podcast in 2018 with Deborah Frances-White, Felicity Ward, Kemah Bob, Grace Petrie, Friends Of The Joiners Arms, the Say It Loud Project, the Oxford Belles, Ebony Rose Dark, and Rev. Kate Harford
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Some questions come up a lot when we talk to people at vigils, and maybe you’ve wondered about some of them too, so here they are! Click a question to skip ahead to the answer..
Why did the Black Cap close anyway? Was it financial problems?
The Black Cap has always been commercially successful, right up until its closure. The owners could have made a steady income by keeping it open but they wanted to make a big, quick profit by turning the building into luxury flats. They closed the Black Cap down in 2015 because campaigners were blocking their redevelopment plans (see Sudden closure and Resisting redevelopment). They probably thought that if the pub was closed, people would give up fighting to protect it – but they were very wrong!
So who actually owns the Black Cap now?
Technically it’s owned by a company called Kicking Horse 3, based in Jersey. But in practical terms it’s being managed by receivers because of Kicking Horse’s financial difficulties (see Following the money). The receivers are a company called LSS. We’re in discussions with them about the future of the building (see Our plan).
Why have the owners just kept it closed all this time? Why not just sell it or re-open it?
It doesn’t make sense to us either! But we can make some guesses. We think that for a long time the owners believed they would still somehow find a way of redeveloping the Black Cap so they could sell it for the big profit they had originally hoped for – even though every time they tried, they failed. Maybe they had already invested and borrowed so much that they needed that big profit and couldn’t afford to settle for any less. But they also clearly failed to find anyone to buy it for the high amount they were looking for. It was probably clear to any possible buyer that the community, the Council, and the GLA would never allow the building to be anything except the Black Cap. So the building has just remained closed all these years. But the new receivers in charge of the build seem to be more open to reason!
Has nothing happened in all that time?
A lot has happened! But most of it has been ‘behind the scenes’. See Resisting redevelopment, Following the money, and Offers and negotiations.
Why haven’t you just tried to buy the building?
Because the owners were never willing to sell it for a realistic price. They’ve always insisted on a price based on what they could get for it as a luxury residential development (as high as eight or nine million pounds), not a realistic market price for an LGBTQ+ pub, club, cabaret, and community space (which would be somewhere closer to three million). But we are now in negotiations with the receivers (see Our plan).
After so much time, surely there’s no hope of anything changing?
Actually things are changing, and will probably change more. After nearly six years of deadlock (see Resisting redevelopment) the building is now in the hands of receivers, who have promised not to try to remove any of the building’s protections, and they say they’re open to offers to lease it and run it as an LGBTQ+ pub, club, cabaret, and community space.
With this option on the table, and with our time now freed up by not having to fight constant planning battles, we’ve been able to make great progress in the last few months. We’ve improved our business plan, started serious talks with several possible partners or solo leaseholders, and started to work out detailed funding options (see Our plan).
Remember that time is on our side. The longer the Black Cap stays closed, the more money its owners are losing, and the more pressure is on them to let it re-open. We’ve shown that we aren’t going away and we can and will block any move to turn the Black Cap into anything it isn’t, so re-opening is the only endgame available. Sooner or later, it will happen.
When will the Black Cap re-open?
It’s impossible to say for sure. There’s a lot of work still to be done, and we can’t rule out nasty surprises that could cause delays. But we think there’s a good chance of having the Cap back up and running within a couple of years.
Is there any need for LGBTQ+ venues any more?
Absolutely. There are still many LGBTQ+ people who are not safe in ‘straight’ venues, especially trans people, gender-non-conforming people, and people of colour. And there are many more who may not actually be in danger but still feel more able to fully relax and be themselves in a dedicated gay and trans space. Even many straight people have told us how much safer they always felt in the Black Cap than in any other pub or club.
And it isn’t just about safety. We have a whole history and culture – music, performance, fashion, language – that needs dedicated spaces to continue and thrive. An LGBTQ+ venue is one where you know you’ll have certain things in common with others, things you don’t need to explain or be questioned about – you can just be with people who ‘get it’. That’s important.
And even if we don’t ‘need’ it (which we do) – so what? We want it, and we’re going to get it!
Black Cap Community
Campaigning for Camden’s LGBTQ+ history and future.
A community benefit society regulated by the FCA, number 8525