'Dirty' Newcastle strip club conditions leave dancers with insect bites and 'flesh-eroding issues', union claims

Newcastle lap dancing clubs For Your Eyes Only and Blue Velvet
-Credit: (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

The “dirty, unhealthy” conditions in a Newcastle strip club have left some dancers with insect bites and even “quite significant flesh eroding issues”, a union has claimed.

Sarah Woolley, general secretary of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), has warned city leaders that she is “really worried and concerned” for staff at clubs owned by Maymask 202 Ltd, which runs For Your Eyes Only and Blue Velvet. The company disputed the union’s claims and said whilst health and safety concerns had been raised, they have been addressed.

In a letter to city councillors, the BFAWU alleged that there are problems with damp and leaking sewage at the premises. One worker who spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) said that some women employed at the lap dancing clubs had gone to hospital as a result of insect bites suffered at work.

The firm, part of the Ladhar family portfolio of leisure, property, and care home businesses, said that health and safety concerns “have been addressed” and that it was “committed to supporting our dancers” at the city centre clubs. Newcastle City Council has now pledged to launch an investigation and called the accusations “very serious”.

The BFAWU claimed that the club owners had “refused” to meet with its officials to resolve the concerns through mediation. The company replied that it had offered workers mediation but would not recognise their union representation.

Ms Woolley said: “We are really worried and concerned about our members. They have been telling us about the dirty, unhealthy conditions they are being asked to work in.”

In a letter sent to all 78 of Newcastle’s elected councillors, she also detailed “issues with damp in the areas where our members are required to spend time when they are not on the floor due to sewage and other liquids leaking through the ceiling and down the walls”. She added that a number of workers had suffered insect bites, some of which have developed into “quite significant flesh eroding issues”, due to the “lack of cleanliness” in the clubs.

Ms Woolley said that she was not calling for the clubs to be shut down, but urged the city council to look at changes to its licensing of sexual entertainment venues (SEV) to better protect workers in the sector.

One member of staff, who spoke to the LDRS on condition of anonymity, said workers in the lap dancing clubs are “forgotten people” and felt like they had “nowhere else to go”. Maymask 202 Ltd hold three of the five current SEV licences in Newcastle, including the now-closed Diamonds.

The club worker said they had been to A&E themselves due to insect bites, which the LDRS has seen evidence of, and that there were several others “who have been to the hospital because of the conditions”. They added: “But this is their source of income – some people work full-time jobs that don’t pay enough so they are coming here to make extra money, and for others this is their only income. Where else are they supposed to go?”

Pictures obtained by the LDRS show evidence of leaks, damp, a collapsed ceiling, and insect traps at For Your Eyes Only.

A spokesperson for Maymask 202 Ltd said they were “very surprised and disappointed that BFAWU have chosen this course of action”. They added: “We shall seek legal advice regarding this action which is clearly designed to damage our business. It is always unfortunate when a Union seeks to exploit its members for its own purposes – here both a challenge to the long accepted (since 2012 at the latest) self-employment status of club dancers and that we do not accept union representation (which we are not obliged to do).

“It is simply not appropriate for the union to seek to influence the council to impose licence conditions regarding employment status when such is, quite properly, a matter for the government through employment legislation. It is this kind of inappropriate conduct by the union that underpins why we do not recognise it.

“We are aware of issues between certain dancers at For Your Eyes Only, Neville Street, and have offered, on a number of occasions, workplace mediation through independent third parties. That offer remains open to any of the other dancers who wish to take part – a number already having expressed a willingness to engage and arrangements for that are in hand.”

The company accepted that the basement-level For Your Eyes Only had been subject to water ingress but said it was not responsible and was “working with our neighbours and the property’s facilities management company to address that issue at the earliest opportunity”. The spokesperson added: “Similarly, where health and safety concerns have been raised, they have been addressed and we continue to monitor these at all times.

“We remain committed to supporting our dancers, and the offer of workplace mediation to bring them together is one we very much hope will iron out any issues that may exist.”

Newcastle City Council confirmed that it had not carried out an inspection of For Your Eyes Only since January 2022 and at Blue Velvet since August 2022, with both clubs’ SEV licences both due to expire in March 2025, but that it would now “pull forward” their next scheduled visits. A council spokesperson said: “All licensed premises including sexual entertainment venues are inspected by the council. To date we have not received any complaints in relation to these premises however the allegations of poor working conditions in the clubs are very serious and we will instigate an investigation.

“We will also pull forward scheduled inspections of the premises and will seek advice from community safety colleagues to see what more can be done as part of a review of existing sexual entertainment venues. No-one in our city should be working in a dangerous or an unhealthy environment.

“As part of the council’s new licensing policy licensees must uphold the principles of the White Ribbon and Shout Up campaigns which seek to improve the conditions of staff working in venues. However, while licensing policy can promote best practice and working conditions it does not cover the employment status of staff, many of whom are self-employed in this industry.”