A massive thank-you to everyone at Karamel, past and present, for being home to London Vegan Drinks for the past five years. We have always experienced a warm welcome, and would encourage London’s vegans (and the vegan-friendly) to continue to support this unique establishment.
However, London Vegan Drinks – like its sister event See You Last Tuesday (CULT) – is now on hiatus, as we assess the options for the future.
When London Vegan Meetup started in February 2007, its monthly get-together was the only dedicated vegan social event in London – with no agenda, and no admission fee. By November 2011 (when I took over responsibility for the group) this had grown to around half a dozen events each month – now including London Vegan Drinks, founded by the blogger Fat Gay Vegan two months previously. This quickly became the largest monthly vegan event in Europe.
In September 2014, London Vegan Drinks moved to Karamel, and incorporated a late evening disco. Then, towards the end of 2015, Fat Gay Vegan handed over the reins. But despite some months being very well attended, average attendance has been falling since 2013.
In a number of ways, this is actually positive news!
- One contributory factor to this falling attendance is that there are many more vegan social events for people to choose from - with London Vegan Meetup now hosting around a dozen each month, in addition to any number of third-party vegan events.
- Another is that the growth of veganism itself means that those interested in veganism are more likely to meet others in their daily lives, so have less need for dedicated social events.
- And anecdotally we hear from former attendees who have made amazing friends at our events, and therefore have less need to keep coming back to meet others.
So, while more specialist vegan events (those focused on a specific activity, or a shared interest besides veganism) have continued to prove successful, it’s getting harder to attract people to generic social events at which they may have nothing in common with other attendees aside from their interest in veganism. Even with London Vegan Meetup’s membership growing from 750 in November 2011 to almost 10,000 today!
Admittedly, this is still a little bittersweet – as commercial non-vegan organisations create large-scale vegan events (in their own venues, and with advertising budgets generated from animal exploitation) in order to cash in on the increased spending power of vegans. But overall it’s still very positive that there are so many more ways for people to explore veganism and meet other vegans.
Nevertheless, it’s important to mention two ways in which London Vegan Meetup's events such as London Vegan Drinks differ from many of the alternatives:
- While some other local vegan groups wilfully provide a platform for oppressive views and bigotry, London Vegan Meetup has taken a strong stand against them.
Even though the focus of veganism may be on the oppression of nonhuman animals, we also believe that everyone (vegan or not) should oppose the oppression of marginalised groups of humans (regardless of whether they believe in any connection between the oppression of nonhuman animals and the oppression of humans).
Furthermore, any failure of vegan groups to do so risks alienating members of marginalised groups (and their allies) from our movement before we even have the opportunity to present the merits of our cause; it undermines the common rationale on which both human rights and animal rights are founded; and it hands non-vegans an excuse to reject our arguments (i.e. “oh, you vegans only care about animals, never humans”).
Therefore, we have regularly expressed why oppressive views are unacceptable – within vegan groups, the overall movement, or society as a whole. Obviously, that has alienated those who are unable to accept such views being challenged, particularly those who are keen to maintain their systemic advantages over others. Well, we don’t want them at our events anyway! But we’ve also been subjected to abuse, harassment, threats, libel, and even attempts at blackmail from these vegans.
(We've also had abuse from those who seem to think that they're entitled to dictate how we should run a free event, towards which they make no contribution, in order to suit their own personal preferences. We've even had water deliberately thrown over our DJ equipment, and a laptop thrown to the floor! But that's another story...)
However, what has been so much more disappointing is how many vegans are prepared to accommodate oppressive views and behaviour, empower those who exhibit them, and thereby contribute to the harm that they cause – perversely accusing the vegans who challenge such behaviour (rather than those who exhibit it) of being “divisive”, simply because they (i.e. the accusers) do not personally experience these oppressions
- While many commercial events are neither financially nor physically accessible to many potential attendees, London Vegan Meetup has never charged a membership or admission fee.
We’ve always been keen to ensure that cost is not a barrier to attendance – whether for vegans with limited disposable income, or non-vegans open to learning more but not inclined to pay to do so. As a volunteer-run group, we’ve been able to avoid charging for attendance. We’ve even been able to provide discounts and free tickets for third-party events on occasion. (However, it does mean that we haven’t had much of a budget for things like event promotion!)
We’re also keen to ensure that there are no physical barriers. And while we are limited to venues that are available for free, we prioritise those that are fully accessible, and always include an accessibility statement.
We would encourage other groups and events to consider embracing similar principles.
Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that, in addition to the demands on organisers’ time, there are tangible costs to running these events – Meetup.com fees, Facebook ads, music licences, equipment, marketing materials, stationery, and so on. In keeping with our policy on financial accessibility, we’ve never wanted to pressurise members or attendees into donating toward such costs. However, we received just four* donations for the whole of 2019! (Not including a few more for the charitable appeals that we have run: one for a disabled vegan who needed a new bed; and one for new mums in rural Kenya – where 1 in 26 babies don’t see their first birthday.)
In summary, stepping back from running these events will allow us to consider how best to use our limited resources to encourage the growth of veganism, and further the inclusive aims above. Maybe that will mean a return to these events in future. Maybe it will mean the creation of different events instead. Maybe it will mean something else entirely...
* The original version of this article said five, but I later realised it was just four!
What's a fair contribution?
I don't think people realise how much work is involved to run several events a month, and I've seen the numbers decline (even as the numbers for our more specialised events like Geekstravaganza grew). But I'm going to miss your DJing, and our two regular drinks Meetups are a sad loss.
We should talk about money. I've been a regular for many years, met my girlfriend at Meetup (as well as many friends and a couple of exes) and haven't contributed a penny (though I did support charities you were promoting). In part, that's because I got used to the cost being trivial (you weren't doing marketing, and Meetup.com itself was far cheaper), partially because you've generously chosen to shift the focus onto charitable giving, and partially because I've no idea what's apt.
But that was stingy of me, and I should really contribute. But I wanted to ask what was appropriate, which is why I'm confessing in public.
What is the annual cost for the non-event-specific cost of running Meetup, and of particular events? Then we could suggest a rule of thumb* based on how much people spend going to meetup - which would be voluntary and progressive, and varied according to disposable income.
(* There's no evidence for a domestic violence etymology, despite the myth, so I don't think we need to abandon the idiom).
I hope people haven't got…
I hope people haven't got the impression that this was mostly about money! Nevertheless, I'd actually turn the question around: bearing in mind what you can afford, what is (and has been) the value of London Vegan Meetup (and events such as London Vegan Drinks and CULT) to you personally, to the local vegan community, or to the promotion of veganism? (For example, what's a partner worth!?)
Looking only at current expenses neglects everything that we could do if we had the budget. (Indeed a budget!) We can't carry out costly activities in the hope that someone will reimburse us (especially based on past experience). So we've had to restrict ourselves to what we can afford. Therefore, marketing has been limited (although it's not true that there's been none), we haven't been able to cover the costs of film licenses or visiting speakers' travel (so have had neither), we haven't been able to fund outreach...
And while London Vegan Meetup has always cost me more than it's generated, is it outrageous to think that there could even be some compensation for the time that it takes up? There seem to be no qualms about the organisers of other vegan events generating an income (even when those organisers are not vegan themselves, so will inevitably spend such proceeds on animal exploitation). So is there something that makes London Vegan Meetup different? Or have we just become too accustomed to getting something for nothing?
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