Strip club opposite church given permission to open during Cheltenham race week

The strip club will return Jessop House opposite Cambray Baptist Church Credit: Google street view

A controversial strip club which is opposite a church in Cheltenham town centre will be allowed to open after every race meeting during Cheltenham Festival 2024.

Red Apple Associates Ltd has been granted permission by Cheltenham Borough Council to run a sexual entertainment venue (SEV) at Jessop House on Cambray Place in the town centre.

The company, which is owned by Steven Burrows and operates as Eroticats, welcomes up to 500 customers a night after race events.

The venue used to be based at the 2 Pigs in Church Street but relocated to Jessop House for race week earlier this year.

The latest proposals for Jessop House to open 17 nights next year split opinion with 50 letters sent in support of the scheme and more than 35 people objecting – including women’s rights groups and Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk.

Alwyn Barry, senior pastor of Cambray Baptist Church, was among those who spoke against the plans for the venue at the licensing sub-committee on 18 December.

He told the committee he represents more than 300 people who worship at the church, and said there were strong reasons for them to reject the application.

He said councillors “had no idea how deeply hurtful” such a business is being so close to a place of worship.

“Where marriage is upheld, immediately opposite us licentiousness is being promoted. Where family life is honoured, immediately opposite us, infidelity is offered," he said.

He added: “It’s discriminatory for Christians for such a venue to be placed in this location."

He said the venue has generated so much offence that those who take children to church events are worried about doing so while the strip club is operating.

Gilli Appleby, chief executive of Gloucestershire Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, also spoke against the scheme.

“Sexual violence is a serious and widespread issue," she said. "The purpose of sexual entertainment venues is to sexually stimulate those observing. Those two statements concern me over how one leads to the other."

"The application which has been submitted this time around for numerous events throughout the year is a significant variation," she added.

An unnamed performer, who has worked for Eroticats since its establishment, spoke in favour of the application.

She explained that her role as a senior house member includes ensuring all performers feel safe and comfortable from start to finish and that they know the rules and regulations around the event.

The performer, who has worked for more than a decade in the industry and at 30 clubs across the UK, said licensing the venue is the only way to ensure performers and customers have a positive experience.

She said: “Eroticats is without a doubt the most organised, safe and well-run operation I’ve ever encountered.

“I’m always saddened by the negative reception these licensings often receive in the media."

She added: “As dancers we are tired of being spoken for rather than to. And portrayed as having no other option than partaking in dancing and sexual entertainment.

"This is simply not true. Many of us have other jobs, businesses and commitments.

“We don’t appreciate comments implying we are selling sex or our bodies. I still have all my limbs.”

Mr Burrows' solicitor told the committee the venue is safe and well-organised.

Chairman David Willingham (LD, St Peter’s) said the committee visited the premises and was satisfied with it.

“The activity is lawful and licensing exists to make it safer,” he said. “The council cannot take a moral stance on the activity.”

He added: "Given around 400 people go to the venue on any given night, it would be unreasonable to hold the sexual entertainment venue responsible for the ills claimed during race week.

“My conclusion is I think licensing is the way forward. The committee voted unanimously to approve the application."

The sex entertainment venue will be allowed to open from 6pm to 5am on the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Cheltenham Festival week as well as from 8pm until 5am on Saturday.

It will open from 8pm until 5am during the rest of its permitted days.

The site will open as a cafe in the day and a strip club at night.

Credit: Carmelo Garcia, Local Democracy Reporting Service