Shut Down Belle Vue: A Grass Roots success
News of the closure of Belle Vue greyhound stadium in Manchester creates a major landmark in the history of animal welfare activism, bringing to an exhilarating end to decades of sustained opposition to greyhound exploitation at this venue.
The first protests started 20 years ago, organised and attended by a small core of greyhound lovers sickened by the cruelty and slaughter of dogs whose dead bodies would be dumped around the country.
Within a few years, I, along with other activists from Manchester Animal Protection, added our support and protests at Belle Vue became more regular and impassioned. Those days thousands would go into the track, which would race 4 nights a week and ticket touts would do good business at the gates, such were the numbers going in.
Every Saturday, however cold or wet, we stood outside the entrance offering punters ample information warning them of the cruelty in greyhound racing, delivered by powerfully worded, visually compelling leaflets, placards and banners. Twice a year our numbers were bolstered by the “Big One” demos, those nights where we knew the track would be particularly busy and up to 80 protesters would join us to implore the public to turn their back on animal cruelty.
Growing awareness of the plight of the greyhounds was boosted when we launched our social media channels, enabling thousands of people to share our message to the greater public.
Saturday evening Belle Vue protests have always been tough and character-building. We’ve had to face insults, abuse and threats of violence from punters and staff, as well as grateful expressions of support. We’ll never forget the many good people who listened to us and read our literature in horror, before walking away never to return to that hell-hole.
For the last 10 years we’ve seen the track’s attendances decline by over 50%; growing public awareness meant the demand simply wasn’t there, Friday night racing ceased and the stadium was clearly only surviving because of bookmaker-funded contracts.
Then in 2018 imagine our joy when local residents showed us the leaflets they’d received: a planning proposal to demolish Belle Vue for housing had been submitted to the council. Now the future of the biggest and oldest track in the UK was really in doubt and despite the Belle Vue faithful insisting planning would be rejected, we gathered at Manchester town hall to revel in the council’s unanimous decision in December 2019 to flatten the track. There were cheers, hugs and tears of joy as we realised the end was in sight. By now even the holders of the lease at BV knew it was over and on 1st August ARC announced there was no longer a business case to support the stadium.
This fight may be over but none of us will rest till greyhound racing is finished throughout the UK. Our attention will be turned to other tracks and betting shop awareness events. We will, however, pause to celebrate winning our hard-fought campaign, a massive, morale-boosting moment for the greyhound protection movement.
Follow us on twitter: @shutdownBV
Dave S, Shut Down Belle Vue Greyhound Race Track