Weird and wonderful street performances are as synonymous with Covent Garden as the outrageous number of stairs you have to climb to get out of the tube station. Anyone who has stepped foot in the area will be familiar with the sights and sounds of a street performer with an audience in the palm of their hand.
Dating all the way back to 1662, when Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary about a marionette show he’d watched, street performing is a tradition that has excited and delighted visitors for hundreds of years. But it could all come to a rather disappointing end next week as Westminster Council are having a vote to enforce laws which will make it near enough impossible for most live street acts to continue performing in Covent Garden. Boo!
Why will these street performances be banned?
Westminster Council first introduced licensing to street performing back in 2021. The restrictions that were brought in with the license made it incredibly difficult for a most artists to perform. Restrictions on the amount of space a performer was allowed to take up, a ban on sound amplification, and a ban on ‘dangerous objects’ meant that most performers had to refuse the license and therefore criminalise themselves whilst performing.
Since 2021, the issue has remained a grey area. Although the council has largely left Covent Garden performers alone; a grey cloud has remained over the square. Performers have been left in limbo, not knowing if (or when) this license would be further enforced.
Unfortunately that time has come. On December 4, a vote has been scheduled, and the voting committee will be given three options. They can either vote to discontinue the scheme, vary the scope of the scheme, or continue with the current scheme. All recent communication has lead the Covent Garden Street Performers Association (CGSPA) to believe that the vote will rule in favour of the license being continued.
What will happen if they vote to continue the scheme?
Should the license goes ahead, efforts to enforce these rules will be ramped up. If a street performer is found breaking the license laws, the police will be called to move them on. If the performer refuses to move, they may be arrested. The rules will restrict sound, space and prop usage to extreme lengths. So much so that if, as expected, the council vote to enforce the license; all performers aside from the living statues could be gone from their beloved spots by Christmas.
Today, members of CGSPA – which has overseen the area since 1980 – are making an impassioned plea. They are hoping for Westminster Council to reconsider the restrictions ahead of the vote.
Melvyn Altwarg and Peter Kolofsky, spokespeople for the CGSPA say: “The performers in Covent Garden are synonymous with the area and breathe life and artistic vibrancy into this special part of London, and the site is a breeding ground for talent who go on to wow audiences all over the world. For the past 40 years, the CGSPA has self-regulated it’s members to ensure they are well behaved and safe, this has been extraordinarily successful, but Westminster Council are making what we do illegal. We urge counsellors to vote for Covent Garden to be exempted from the Westminster-wide license and leave the Covent Garden street performers to their own self-regulation”.
Read more about it and sign the petition here.