Lauren Ryan
Lauren Ryan is a Leisure Analyst, writing reports on the UK’s leisure market. She has a keen focus on consumer behaviour, innovations and opportunities available within the market.

A first for 2019, Emerge Festival was billed as ‘night at the museum meets Glastonbury’, offering performances, workshops and activities across 11 London Boroughs. 39 cultural attractions took part, ranging from museums to historic houses, all with the aim of showcasing an alternative to traditional night life in the capital. Over the nights of Friday 27 and Saturday 28 September, my friends and I embarked on a mission to see as many events as possible.

The experience economy is transforming night-time entertainment

The night-time economy has been in the spotlight over the past few years, with the Mayor of London championing the idea of a 24-hour capital. The Night Tube was launched in 2016 to bring transport availability in line with cities like New York City, followed by the appointment of the city’s first ‘Night Czar’ in 2017. This has become vital as the number of pubs and nightclubs have plummeted in the past decade, stripping the UK of traditional night-time socialising options.

However, the void that remains presents opportunities for new kinds of venues. Our research shows this is being addressed by operators willing to think outside the box. This is illustrated by the recent boom of competitive socialising venues across the UK, such as tenpin bowling and bingo. Similarly, music festival attendance is at an all-time high, with organisers racing to meet demand. From crazy golf to festival yoga, it is clear that people want something different from their nights out.

Millennials are driving this trend, with over 70% of them preferring to spend money on experiences rather than possessions, according to Mintel research on Millennials. For brands, this means offering unique, creative, and challenging opportunities to socialise with friends.

Enter Emerge Festival

The brainchild of Brighton-based arts and heritage charity Culture24, Emerge Festival was the result of years of research into night-time events in cultural venues such as museums, known as Lates. Keeping the doors open past 5pm is a crucial step towards sustaining the heritage sector amidst cuts and austerity. A night-time offer can not only bring additional income in an otherwise-closed period, but it is more likely to attract new, and often younger audiences.

The Emerge Festival model is simple, but innovative – a single ticket which gives access to all 39 venues, scattered across London. Challenge accepted!

Learning in the West, dancing in the East

Come Friday evening, I made the short walk from our very own Mintel offices in Central London to the London Mithraeum, the site of a Roman temple which hosted a DJ set and workshops among Roman artefacts. I read about the ancient history of London while projected neon gladiators manoeuvred around the rocky displays, which were found on that very site.

On the way home, I stopped past Shoreditch’s Rich Mix arts centre just in time to catch the end of Wyllis’ set as part of Hidden Gems LIVE.

The first stop for Saturday was St. Mary Magdalene’s Church which is newly branded as the Grand Junction. It hosted spoken word poetry from London’s Young Poet Laureate Theresa Lola, and live music performances from R’n’B singer Kate Stewart. Neon lights bounced off the stained-glass window backdrop, while reverb reflected back from the ceiling’s needle spire – a constant cue that we were in a church, rather than a grassroots music venue.

Over to South Kensington for the UK’s 4th most visited attraction, the Natural History Museum, which hosted a bunch of events. These included a ‘meditative journey to the moon’ presented by a former NASA scientist, and an interactive adventure where neuroscientist Dr. Saloni Krishnan and world champion beatboxer Bellatrix joined forces to take the public through the evolution of sound in the natural world.

The wrap up of the entire festival was the ‘headline’ DJ set from Mercury-nominated Jungle in The Hintze Hall, which was transformed from a thoroughfare into what could have been an inner-city nightclub. However, the 25.2-metre-long blue whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling was a stark reminder we were somewhere more special.

My biggest regret was not making it to the life-sized game of Operation at the Old Operating Theatre and the escape room challenge in the Jewel Tower – maybe next year!

Something extra from the social experience

The success of Emerge Festival is a shining example of the consumer appetite for new leisure experiences. Gone are the days of predictable nights out with friends at the local bar or catching up over dinner!

The demand for challenging, social experiences is indicative of the youth’s willingness to pursue their own interests, be it personal, moral or ethical. The wellness movement has played a big role, making consumers more health-conscious and in search for alternative entertainment. In addition, the once-separate combination of learning and fun is now viewed as a natural fit, capitalising on the rising ‘kidult’ trend that warrants every day workers to unleash their inner child after dark.

In true Millennial fashion, rare and unique events are what make the most ‘Instagrammable’ moments – we all know what the inside of a nightclub looks like, but have you seen a rave under a whale skeleton in a museum? Lates can breathe new life into the UK’s night life by diversifying the options available. The market is ripe for cultural attractions such as museums and historic buildings to capitalise on the buzz and take the chance to offer something new.