'The people of Leamington Spa just don't like striptease'

Residents fear new clubs will bring increase in crime and anti-social behaviour
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The Independent Online

There were still six hours to go until opening time but it was action stations behind the scenes at Shades, Royal Leamington Spa's new pole-dancing club yesterday.

Cleaners were busy polishing the mirrors and chrome while the owners Rob and Lisa Ransford stocked up the bar.

It is six weeks since Shades opened its doors, and, after a promising start, trade has been up and down since then. "We have our busy nights and we have our quiet nights, just like any other business," said Mr Ransford, 56, who for the past 16 years ran the town's snooker club.

"This is our life. We have invested everything we have in this, this is what we have worked for for the past 30 years. What we do is not immoral – you can go out see much more than we have here on display in most nightclubs."

Shades has a strict "no topless" policy – in the main dancefloor area at least. Long dresses are compulsory until 10pm and there is even a no-nipple policy in the advertising material used to promote the venue. But inside the seven private booths it is a different matter. A topless dance in the "VIP" suite can cost as little as £20.

The money paid for the private sessions goes straight into the pockets of the women themselves. Some 12 to 14 dancers pay up to £45 a night for the opportunity to perform at the club. They are encouraged to socialise with the punters and take in turns to dance at the central pole in the hope of persuading customers into a one-on-one.

Unlike other owners, say the Ransfords, they do not take a commission on what the dancers earn. Yet margins can still be painfully thin for the performers. "Last night, the girls didn't earn any money at all," said Mr Ransford. "They didn't do one private dance between them. We had plenty of people in but they were drinking at the bar until 2.50am so none of them could go home. They've all got jobs in the morning and one of the girls had a two-hour drive back."

With an admission charge starting at £3 and a bottle of lager costing less than some of the local pubs, the Ransfords have gone out of their way to make Shades affordable. Like the rest of Leamington's publicans and club owners, they are facing leaner times as a result of cheap supermarket booze and the smoking ban.

But there is also a backlash of opinion in the town. Archie Pitts, chairman of the Leamington Society, said: "The people of Leamington don't like striptease or lapdancing in their town," he said. "As one letter writer to the local newspaper said, it arouses desire without satisfying it. You get a lot of men coming out wanting sex somewhere – where are they going to find it? It may lead to an increase in rape and crime or other anti-social behaviour."

Opposition forces were also mobilised recently to oppose the creation of a second lap-dancing club, at the site of the former Irish Club, provoking the wrath of the Central Leamington Residents Association among others. That application was withdrawn but, under the terms of the Government's new licensing laws, there is little residents can do to stop clubs springing up unless they live virtually next door.

Outside in Leamington's famous parade, Ceri Evans, a 19-year-old student at Warwick University was meeting her friends Fiona Mitchell, 20, and Liz Fox, 20. All said they had failed to register any profound change since Shades opened. "I can't say we have seen a lot of sex-crazed men wandering about – at least no more than usual," said Ms Evans. "Some of the guys have talked about the club but in a mocking way. I don't think they would actually go."

Lisa Ransford, 40, meanwhile could see nothing wrong with the morality of her new business venture. "The art of what they do is absolutely brilliant," she said. "We want to promote the skill of them dancing on the pole. You are always going to get that minority who say they don't like something because it is different."