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Inverness city bar proposes workers' collective

By Val Sweeney

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Hootananny is seeking 16 staff for a workers' collective.
Hootananny is seeking 16 staff for a workers' collective.

THE owner of an award-winning Inverness music venue has come up with an unorthodox plan to try and retain two upstairs bars under consideration for conversion to a backpackers’ hostel.

Kit Fraser, who owns Hootananny’s in Church Street, is seeking 16 people for a workers’ collective to run the venue’s Mad Hatters bar –a launchpad for many fledgling musicians – and the Glowbar.

They would be paid in drink and food vouchers to the value of £60 for one weekend evening shift a fortnight, plus a share in 50 per cent of the profits.

But one city councillor has voiced reservations, saying any proposals should come up with fair pay for staff.

Mr Fraser recently lodged an application to convert the first and second floors into a 30-bed backpackers’ hostel, citing a wave of new pubs and increased business rates, but admitted he would prefer to keep the bars.

“We are not in an ideal situation here,” he said. “We have to think imaginatively.”

Under his proposals, like-minded “entrepreneurs” would receive in-house business training and a free social life.

“I have been in business for 40 years and can tell them what it is really like,” he said.

He adopted a similar model for his former restaurant, The Joy of Taste, in Church Street which had paid kitchen staff but took on 60 volunteer waiters during its four-year operation with the aim of creating a type of friendship club.

When he sold it reluctantly in 2015, he said he had run out of steam and money and called it a heroic failure, but stressed the social side had been a success.

Venue owner Kit Fraser
Venue owner Kit Fraser

Mr Fraser defended his unorthodox remuneration proposals for the new venture, saying a free social life would provide part of the motivation.

“It is an alternative is watching TV,” he said.

“Here, the alternative is watching a great band in a great atmosphere.”

He insisted he would make more money converting the building into a hostel which he has not yet ruled out, although the application still has to be determined.

He was uncertain of the impact on the existing staff of either plan, but he is looking at extending the opening hours in the downstairs bar.

City councillor Emma Roddick acknowledged the city could possibly lose two music venues – the Ironworks and Mad Hatters – but had reservations about Mr Fraser’s proposal.

“The paying in kind being described is something that has already been tried and failed in Inverness, and which the owner himself described at the time as a “heroic failure,” she said.

“It’s not a happy thought that Hatters might be next music venue the city centre is to lose, and if a way to carry on providing such a place can be found then I look forward to continuing to visit.

“However, any proposal must come with fair pay for staff.”

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