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.

10 Comments on “Brixton Mass and Babalou nightclubs closed, premises repossessed”

  1. Love to see this space used in a much more positive way for the community. It’s right at the heart of Brixton & has huge potential to benefit thousands – hoping its brought to all its glory.

  2. This is s surprisingly well informed blog, you must have a friend within Brix giving you this information so soon after the event.
    Perhaps you could balance out your story with another blog entry derived from information sourced from Mr Chicksand to counter the one-sidedness of your report (or have you already tried and failed to do that? He sounds like such a charlatan and swindler from how you have described him! Send Watchdog onto him!)
    Personally I share the views of MC and Dave above. It is such a shame that Brix binned the plan to open a toddlers swimming pool – it would have opened up the building to families and the community (what on Earth were the Trustees thinking of??)

  3. Upon re-reading the article the Source appears to contradict his/herself.
    Firstly, they state that the court date was put back at the behest of Brix, not Chicks. Given the apparent parlous state of their finances surely Brix should have proceeded to court, confident that a judge would find in their favour? It looks like the major delay in resolving that issue is the fault of Brix & their Board. The ‘long awaited court appearance’ is only long awaited because Brix put it back!!

    Secondly it would appear that Chicks have been taking positive action to repay the debt owed to Brix by selling their leases. As the Source states – ‘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’. By locking Chicks out Brix have denied themselves the opportunity of getting any money back from this route. What sense is this?
    Is the Source aware of the opinion of Brix’s own advisors who advised them against such action against Chicks?

    It is worth noting that Chicks themselves acquired the leases from insolvent tenants for six figure sums in the early noughties. The majority of this consideration was repaid to Brix so it was not severely out of pocket from rent arrears that had built up at those times. Why have the new Trustees chosen to deny themselves the same opportunity this time around by taking back the leases? It doesn’t make sense and you can only conclude they have helped to engineer the charity’s reported financial difficulties by pursuing a non-conciliatory course of action in contrast to previous situations arising in the past.

    The Source states that the problems have arisen since 2008. This coincides with the recession and the introduction of the smoking ban. Chicks is hardly alone in the leisure sector in suffering financial hardship during this time. If it became apparent that the company could not repay its debts then Company Law requires the directors to engage the services of an Insolvency Practitioner so that appears to be what they have done.
    The Source states ‘The Brix took this action [of evicting the tenant] 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’.
    There are scores of tenanted commercial premises up and down the country which have behaved in this way because it is the proper way. In such situations landlords have been willing to engage in discussions with the tenant and their representatives and not thrown them out. Subsequently the landlords involved have continued to enjoy revenue streams and avoided falling into financial hardship themselves. Clearly Brix thinks differently so I expect the Trustees have an alternate plan to plug the hole in the charity’s finances. The Source must surely be misplaced in stating ‘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.’ The Source is implying that the Trustees have been incompetent in pursuing this policy without a backup source of finance, surely some mistake?!

    Finally I should point out that I have no financial or contractual relationship with either Chicks or Brix and no involvment with this situation. I have visited Babalou on at least a dozen occasions whilst visiting London and have always enjoyed it. It is a sad state of affairs.

  4. As someone who paid performers in advance to perform in an event at Mass at the end of March, which has now been cancelled due to the actions of both the tenant and the Board of Trustees on behalf of the head lessee, (some of the performers have lost money on hotels and flights which they booked in advance at their own expense), I think both parties have the same levels of integrity.

    The lack of empathy shown by both parties for those who have lost money trying to promote an event, has been an eye opener for me. There seems to be two camps on this blog, either in support of the tenant, or in support of the Board of Trustees…but in my opinion, (and from my recent experience in dealing with both
    parties), they seem to share the same principles!

  5. I seem to remember that when I took on the lease for the crypt space in 1994 that the header terms of lease specifically stated that no one business could acquire more than a predetermined amount of space in the building. This was to prevent the very thing that has happened now with so much of the buildings success reliant on the whims and wits of just one person!
    Is it here that I mention that all the bodies that were ‘exhumed’ and reburied in the 70’s are all still there, in the crypt. I found them. Stacked up studded leather coffins and swathes of loose bones. Never told anyone though as they probably would have closed my kitchen.

  6. That space should be used for better events than sad fat londoners in leather spreading HIV. Instead it would make an amazing venue for real music events. Brixton could do with a community music space that hosts many visitors. The torture garden makes Brixton a sex and drugs place rather than a music and food and culture place. If they loose it. What a pity.

  7. i was homeless once out side mass you gave me a free beer bless you brov gutted the missues is aving her b day on sat night was checking your list & you have been closed gutted another good club gone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! To the African Dude!!!!!!!!!!!!

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