Punk-Space Organiser Interrogation #5: Alex Hannan, The 1 in 12, Bradford

Bradford’s 1 in 12, the venue for too many legendary anarcho punk and hardcore gigs to mention, is a real institution that seems to stand strong in spite of it all. I caught up with Alex, who’s been the admin coordinator there since 2009. RIP Protag.

BB: The 1 in 12 must be one of the longest established and last remaining few social centres in the UK. By way of an introduction for those who may not know, could you describe what the 1 in 12 is and a bit of background as to its existence? And the story behind the name!

Alex: The 1 in 12 is a members’ club and social centre in Bradford, West Yorkshire. We run a bar and gig venue and are also home to a cafê, anarchist library, letterpress machine, record label and practice room / studio. “Anarchically run” is a half-joking tag that has been used to describe our method: we aim to organise on non hierarchical lines with core principles of Liberty, Equality and Solidarity. Mutual aid, self-management and co-operation are written into our constitution.

The 1 in 12 as a concept evolved out of an unemployed claimants’ union in 1981 – originally it was a way for people on the dole to fight the grimness of Thatcher’s Britain by organising politically and creating access to affordable gigs and places to socialise. The events organised moved around different Bradford venues and the project grew in strength until in 1988 we bought a building, partly using a community grant. After licencing wrangling it opened in May of that year. The name was a cheeky two fingers to a 1981 government report into benefit fraud which declared that 1 in 12 people claiming state benefits were doing so fraudulently.

BB: Who’s involved on a day to day basis and how do you split tasks and make decisions? How long have you been involved there and what is your role?

Alex: Decision making happens at bi-monthly members’ meetings which are open to any member. New members have to be proposed by an existing member, pay a small fee and agree to abide by a few basic guidelines. It’s free for asylum seekers. At most meetings there is a group of semi-regulars and others who drop in from time to time. There are various yearly volunteer posts like secretary, treasurer and chair, who interact with two small groups which meet to discuss issues and make proposals. One is the bar collective, who keep the bar staffed four days a week, and the other is the staff and finance committee – an entity that comes from the licensing need to have nominated people who buy the beer on behalf of the members, but usually made of members with more experience of the nuts and bolts of keeping the place running who can make proposals to the general meeting. Their meetings are also open, though.

Then, on a day to day basis, the bulk of the work is taken on by two paid workers and the bar collective. There are twenty hours’ paid work each week which cover things like counting takings, keeping accounts, stocking and running the cellar. The existence of paid workers is unappealing to some – at a social centres gathering I attended one person told me that they found the concept disempowering. We have found that it enables continuity around key areas of work that need to happen, like the accounting, and the understanding of cellar work. The café is completely volunteer run, and the studio is self supporting thanks to the bands that pass through.

My role is a kind of admin co-ordinator – I keep the books, pay the bills, answer most enquiries, keep membership records, etc etc. I started coming to the club regularly in 2004. Began volunteering on the bar 2006, was club secretary in 2008, took on a paid role 2009.

BB: What kind of building does the 1 in 12 occupy and what are the financial pressures?

Alex: The 1 in 12’s home is a four-storey converted building on a cobbled back-street tucked away surprisingly close to the town centre. We’re very fortunate that since we own the building we don’t have to make rent, because over the years Leeds’ thriving DIY music scene has tempted people away from what was once a populous scene, and the core community has dwindled somewhat. We’re never exactly comfortable financially, and there are aspects of maintaining the aging building which demand formidable amounts of money. We were able to re-tile our roof thanks to the generosity of a member who came into some money, but the boiler is on its last legs. The lift hasn’t been operational for 10 years or more and having that refurbished would be a big step forward in making the venue accessible.

BB: How do you think the space regarded by the neghbourhood, the city’s authorities and various communities of Bradford and beyond it, generally? Is gentrification an issue in Bradford and if so what is the 1 in 12’s relationship to those kinds of processes, if any?

Alex: The immediate neighbourhood consists of a pretty friendly Polish shop who I think appreciate the business of the punks who choose to drink outside at festivals, and a solicitors who own the rest of the block and would probably very much like to see us gone. Even on the busiest nights of the year crowds are contained within a sloping cobbled back street so we don’t make much of an impact in terms of noise or disturbance. It’s odd – the kind of place that even many Bradford residents won’t really be able to locate when you mention the name, but for people involved in the activist or punk communities we’re often known overseas. Activism at the club has from time to time led to police sniffing around and pressure from the licensing authorities, but at the same time Bradford is traditionally a safe Labour seat and rumour has it that we have advocates in high-ish places who cut their teeth at the club in their more radical days! The 1 in 12 is pretty white, not as multicultural as the general population of Bradford in terms of membership but I think anti-fascist activism and Mayday celebrations have definitely created community links.

I don’t live in Bradford myself but beyond the local council’s attempts to create a sort of pretty fountain and stone art gallery combo in the city centre gentrification doesn’t seem a huge presence – a few apartment developments in the city centre here and there, but less of the sort of wholesale displacement as different areas become trendy. It’s not a well-off city. I would say more typical of the recent Bradford experience is the attempted shopping centre which ran out of money and just turned into a massive hole in the middle of the city for years.

BB: What are some memorable highlights of your involvement at the 1 in 12, your favourite gigs etc? 

Alex: I started getting involved around the time of the first Means to an End festival and it’s become a mainstay of the calendar. Blurry evenings in the pit and mornings sweeping up with a crushing hangover! Equalfest was also good when it took place in Bradford, trying to counter male domination of musical activities. We have had a bunch of great acoustic acts play in the library, like the jaw-dropping Richard Dawson from Newcastle. Local troubadour Captain Hotknives has been a good laugh when he’s played – check out his Youtube video “The pigeons told me to shoplift”, filmed in our library. It’s also been great taking a marquee out into the city on Mayday and having gigs in the park.

BB: What have been some of the biggest challenges in recent years and how securely do you see the future of the space?

Alex: The 1 in 12 has outlasted many a trendy bar thanks to having a good group of people who for the most part stick together and care about the place – and through still being able to offer opportunities to socialise affordably, organise together, get creative and make music. If anything I think we are stronger in more troubled economic times. I have nightmares about new apartments going up in the wrong place and our activities being brought low by noise complaints, but fingers crossed.

Challenges have been things like a spate of burglaries a few years back, sets of keys being lost and the resulting security lockdown, and the occasional fallouts, factions and arguments that I’m sure almost any space faces. We also lost our good friend Protag to cancer recently, who had been a powerhouse of the place for many years and was tireless in the sound engineering / PA collective and keeping the place shipshape with maintenance.

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