Brixton Mass and Babalou nightclubs closed, premises repossessed

Brixton nightclubs and the future of Mass, Babalou and St Matthews church

Following on from our recent story about Brixton St Matthews church and the future of Babalou and Mass nightclubs and this thread on the urban75 forums, we have received another update from our source, who chooses to remain anonymous:

Earlier this week, the landlords of St Matthews Church, The Brix at St Matthews, took decisive action and forfeited the leases of Mass and Babalou nightclubs.

 Certificated bailiffs attended at dawn this morning to change the locks and post notices to inform the owner of Mass and Babalou nightclubs, Chicks Ltd, that under clauses 28 and 34 of their leases, the landlord was forthwith repossessing the premises and the leases had been torn up. Clauses 28 and 34 entitle the landlord to forfeit the lease when rent, utility bills and service charges are owed by the tenant.

The Brix took this action because of an admission by the owner of Chicks Ltd that he could not pay his debts and a phone call earlier in the week from an insolvency practitioner who was seeking to intervene on behalf of the tenant to negotiate a settlement (very probably) considerably short of what was actually owed.

Brixton nightclubs and the future of Mass, Babalou and St Matthews church

The Brix has been waiting for 15 months to go to court to reclaim bad debts owed by to it by Chicks Ltd. The claim was for over £70,000 owed from 2008 and 2009.

Originally the court case was scheduled for July 2011, but because The Brix’s main witness was undergoing treatment for cancer at that time, The Brix had to ask the court’s permission for a delay. It took the whole of the rest of 2011 to get a new court date, and the trial was scheduled for 2nd April 2012 – now less than two weeks away.

During the whole of 2011 and the first three months of 2012, Chicks has made no effort to resolve the dispute. Neither has it made its own calculation of what it thought was due, and actually paid off at least that portion of the debt. leaving the disputed balance to be decided by the court. That would have been the decent thing to do. Instead, it paid the landlord not one penny of the service charges which had been billed.

To make the situation worse for The Brix, Chicks has been withholding payments for rent, utility bills and service charges since July 2011. A further £50,000+ is owed for the last nine months and Chicks have repeatedly ignored invoices as this debt has gradually accumulated over nine months.

A suspicious person might conclude that this device was meant to starve out The Brix until it was so desperately short of money itself that it was willing to settle the dispute for whatever amount the tenant decided to offer.

Meanwhile, Chicks has been trying to sell the two leases via a commercial agent. Stan Chicksand the owner has probably been hoping that the new buyer would offer enough of a premium for him to be able to settle up with The Brix out of the proceeds of the sale. It now looks as if he has not been able to find a buyer in time to escape his appearance in court….

Brixton nightclubs and the future of Mass, Babalou and St Matthews church

Except that the intervention of an insolvency practitioner at this eleventh hour means that the court case is probably off and The Brix will not after all get the chance to argue in front of a judge about what it is owed.

Given that Chicks and The Brix could not agree what money was owed, only the intervention of a judge could have ended the impasse. A judgement from the court would have given Chicks 14 days to hand over the amount the court had determined. Now that is unlikely to happen.

This neat piece of footwork by the tenant and his advisers was possibly designed to frustrate the long-awaited court appearance and prevent the legal system from settling the dispute. If this has been done deliberately, it is an act of the greatest possible cynicism.

The Brix is a charity. It survives on the money it attracts in rent and hire fees. It receives no charitable funds whatsoever. It let two large spaces to Chicks, not because it enjoyed having a notorious nightclub in the building but because it needed the rent to pay for the upkeep of the historic building of St Matthews.

The church, which was built in 1824, is Grade II* Listed, which puts it in the top 6,000 buildings in the country. This also makes it phenomenally expensive to maintain because everything has to be done to heritage standards with approval from the relevant authorities.

It is no secret that the congregation of St Matthews – which also has its own space in the building – has had huge problems accommoding the nightclub, especially when Chicks has insisted on its rights to host regular Torture Garden events, which most of the church-goers find deeply upsetting.

Now The Brix may have to fold itself. So much money is owed to it that at least its next few months will be difficult to survive.

What do you think about these developments?
Add a comment below or join in with the thread on the urban75 forums.