5th October 2018
Jason Dormon – The Night Mayor of Tunbridge Wells?
The owner of some of the town’s most popular pubs and venues sheds light on the grassroots campaign
The fabric of any city or town’s identity is made up of a million tiny pigments, encompassing every social interaction, individual and group along the way. Invest too much in one and not enough in another, then the scales can easily tip.
Having grown up in London and made homes in Birmingham, Leeds, Melbourne and, finally, Tunbridge Wells, I’ve noticed varying trends in how areas feed their culture – some taking more notable care than others. There were those that spread the butter too thin, while elsewhere, too much was put in one corner, leaving the rest comparatively neglected.
A while back, the team here at K&Q HQ came across a Facebook movement to elect a Night Mayor for Tunbridge Wells. Following cities like Amsterdam, Birmingham and London, this individual would act as a voice for the local night-time economy – and we recognised the name being put forward immediately.
As frequenters of Jason Dormon’s many venues across the town – including The Forum and The George – we grabbed a drink with him to find out what it was all about, and if he thought he was the man for the job, as everyone seems to think.
“I don’t think it should be me,” he says. “I’m not impartial, as I have a vested interest in the town’s economy, so it could be seen as a conflict of interest. People could say, ‘Of course you want the buses to run later, Jason – it’s good for business!’”
In Jason’s opinion, this objective go-between could be anyone who cares about the growth of the town. Working closely with local authorities and liaising with bars, pubs, restaurants and other venues, it would be his or her job to bring greater infrastructure, funding, security and enjoyment to the area’s evening events and leisure pursuits.
But just what exactly is a Night Mayor, anyway? In short, it’s the idea of having an official representative responsible for celebrating and supporting the nightlife of the town; someone who recognises its importance, and will campaign to improve safety, oversee impact studies of large events, and implement changes that many feel are necessary.
Held in London by Amy Lamé, the position of the ‘Night Czar’ is nothing new in the UK, having already been championed in – but generally confined to – larger cities nationwide. Jason believes that it’s therefore also a way of keeping Tunbridge Wells ahead of the curve in a more provincial setting: “If London is doing it, and everyone is telling them to do it, then why can’t we do it?”
Although perhaps a little dubious about being considered himself, he wholeheartedly stands behind the concept.
“A town’s nightlife is a huge part of its identity,” he continues. “Tunbridge Wells isn’t nine to five, and the after-hour independents should be supported and nourished. The manifesto is ‘Enjoyment and safety’.”
For Jason, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to helping those contributing to a town’s culture, and this is a way of challenging those who may harbour that belief. Indeed, Tunbridge Wells is bursting with untapped potential, its nightlife significantly subsidising the town’s overall economy, particularly when it comes to keeping younger generations here, as Jason concludes.
“Those who work in the night-time economy are generally younger,” he explains. “They’ll be the ones looking after us in 10 to 15 years, so we should be making sure there’s a well-supported place for them now.
“The nightlife here is a series of tiny ecosystems working together, and with a little more nourishment, they’ll all thrive. It would encourage growth and tax revenue, and all cares for the health of the town.”
Whether or not Jason himself takes up the mantle, one thing’s for certain – he’s continuing to fight the good fight, and is happy to embrace the changes that many believe Tunbridge Wells so desperately needs.