A series of blogs in the days after the Grand Hall fire, plus an annual update, which tell the story of the fire and its aftermath
MARCH 14 2015 – HUGE THANKS AND WHAT NEXT
Yesterday there was a fire at Battersea Arts Centre that destroyed the Grand Hall and Lower Hall.The organisation and the front half of the building live to fight another day. We start now.
As I cycled towards the building last night I thought about the millions of people who have shared and enjoyed the Grand Hall and Lower Hall over the last 120 years – as a public space – for everyone. These public spaces are reducing in number – which makes it all the more heartbreaking.
Huge thanks are owed to all the emergency services, who literally saved the front half of the building, to staff, artists and volunteers at Battersea Arts Centre, and to everyone who has shown their overwhelming support online over the last 24 hours. The passion for the building and the organisation is extraordinary. Thank you all for being part of this. We really need you at this time.
Today we start the next chapter. We want to get the shows back on and rebuild the building brick by brick. Huge thanks to the National Funding Scheme who set up a donate page on their site to raise funds. This is incredibly important – At the moment we have no offices, no Grand Hall theatre, and we have to re-establish a new financial model for the next 12 months. So your support – at whatever level – is so valuable. Thank you so much to everyone who has already donated and who has supported BAC through social media.
MARCH 16 2015 – THIS WEEK WE ARE MOVING FORWARD
Battersea Arts Centre has been strengthened by overwhelming support from individuals and organisations, following a fire of devastating scale that broke out on Friday afternoon. All staff and visitors were evacuated to safety.
The Grand Hall, where the fire appears to have started, is completely destroyed. This tragically includes intricate plasterwork, the console of a historic theatre organ as well as the set for the show Missing by Gecko.
At the back of the building the Lower Hall has also suffered severe damage, although the full impact on its structure is yet be determined. Surrounding spaces have also been affected by the huge amount of water necessary to put out the fire and staff offices and technical equipment have also been lost.
The brilliant work of the London Fire Brigade and other emergency services on the scene on Friday meant that the front of the building was untouched and able to reopen to the public on Saturday evening, with two sold out shows going ahead as planned. Artefacts from Wandsworth Museum, which recently announced a partnership with Battersea Arts Centre, are also safe in a dedicated off-site storage unit.
Battersea Arts Centre cannot adequately express its deepest gratitude to those who have given their support on the ground as well as the thousands of well-wishers that have taken to social media to offer their messages of heartbreak and hope.
Remarkably, in the space of two days over 1,750 people have given over £52,000 to the donations page created by the National Fundraising Scheme. This generosity has been mirrored by Battersea Power Station, who have pledged a further £100,000 towards the organisation’s much loved home in its time of need.
Whilst an investigation takes place to uncover the cause of the fire and experts assess the full extent of the damage caused, Battersea Arts Centre is fervently committed to operating as normally as possible. Shows and workshops, the Scratch Bar and The Bee’s Knees indoor play space, are up and running as usual.
As of today, a three-part action plan is being set
· Alternative spaces are being sought for shows due to take place in the Grand Hall · A new financial model is being drafted for the next 12 months
· The process of rebuilding what has been lost is being assessed and discussed
Battersea Arts Centre is also underwriting the cost of rebuilding the set of Gecko’s Missing so that the process can begin without delay to enable the company to undertake an upcoming tour to Mexico.
The final phase of Battersea Arts Centre’s Capital Project, due to be completed in spring 2016, is set to continue as planned as the areas undergoing redevelopment are unaffected by the fire.
David Jubb, Artistic Director and CEO of Battersea Arts Centre:
The way people have responded to this event is quite extraordinary. I’d like to thank everyone for their incredible support for Battersea Arts Centre and Battersea’s beautiful former town hall. The Battersea spirit, encapsulated in its mid-19th Century motto – Not For Me, Not For You, But For Us – is all around. And all those who are directly involved have been lifted up by this support. Thank you.
MARCH 17 2015 – THANK YOU
Monday began with a full-staff meeting in the Scratch Bar. We work in projects at Battersea Arts Centre, so we’ve created a new one: Team Phoenix will work on the recovery; while the role of every other project is to take us forwards and lift us out of managing a crisis towards the future. So if you’re working on a partnership project with us, then expect this to continue.
I take my hat off to the fortitude, the inventiveness and the kindness of my team. They are above and beyond. They are, quite simply, inspirational.
Team Phoenix had several challenges for a Monday morning: to get some computers, some wifi and some office space. To recreate our software for booking spaces with sheets of A3 paper on the wall, to contact audiences with updates, to start seeking alternative spaces for the future Grand Hall programme. Gecko has also been on the phones, calling their audiences for Missing…our relationship with that extraordinary theatre company just became even stronger and deeper. We also started thinking about an event to celebrate the history of the Grand Hall, explored first thoughts on our rebuilding plan, did more work on our fundraising plan, met again with our insurance company and brokers, and explored a series of moving and heartfelt offers for support.
I am really conscious that these daily updates are only scratching the surface in terms of the offers of support we have received. It’s impossible not to well-up when thinking about the emails, texts and calls we are receiving. I am so deeply grateful. I am also really sorry that we are not getting back to everyone immediately. But we will, I promise. It will just take time. For now, thank you so much, your support means the world. Your thoughtfulness, your love for the building and the organisation, it lifts us up and makes us strong.
As ever, the building draws support from both sides of the political spectrum. On Friday night, as the fire raged, the local Labour Party opened up their Lavender Hill headquarters. My team were able to take shelter, deal with the incident and the immediate aftermath. We were given the keys to the building and asked them to post them through the letterbox whenever we finished up. I’d like to thank Will Martindale and his team; this was great support at an incredibly stressful time. Over the weekend, our local conservative MP, Jane Ellison, has been brilliant with on-site support, press interviews and inviting the Secretary of State for Culture, Sajid Javid MP, to visit yesterday morning. Thanks to Sajid and to DCMS for their concern and support. The Chair and CEO of Arts Council also attended and offered great advice, as did our lead officer from Wandsworth Borough Council. Harriet Harman MP has been on the phone to see if she can help. Whilst Battersea’s former Town Hall has always been a politicised space, it is also, crucially, a space, that doesn’t judge your politics, it invites you to express yourself, freely, a space for everyone, regardless of your background or beliefs. It just asks one thing of you… Not For Me, Not For You, But For Us.
Thank you to our good neighbours, Café Parisienne, Currells Estate Agents, thank you Joan and Pete for your donation, to the shops making collections, to the local resident who has offered to run a marathon, to the pack leader who wants the rest of her Brownie’s to do a fundraiser, to Battersea Power Station for stepping in, to all the film-makers who have offered to make films, to the offer of a rehearsal space in France, all the offers of cleaning, painting and bricklaying. Thank you to Kneehigh for their music that has made my heart soar (and sore) remembering their breath-taking shows in the Grand Hall. To all the cultural organisations who have offered kit, space, moral support. To the Arts Council for being like a rock in this situation, to Heritage Lottery, ditto, Wandsworth Council, ditto. Thank you to Steve, Imogen, Toby and the Haworth Tompkins team who have offered incredible friendship and strength. To the Leader of Wandsworth Borough Council for his email with the subject line A Big Hug. To the Foundations that have got in touch. To my Chair who has offered his expert salvage team, and to all our Trustees who are going above and beyond.
I almost don’t want to press send on this because I have failed to thank 1,000s of people and organisations who have stepped forward to offer help, to donate, and to say “we will do anything we can”. You should all be celebrated. I propose that when we rebuild we find a way of representing this incredible love, this remarkable moment in a building’s history, this chapter in a community’s story… a time when people came together for a cause that we all believe in. We must capture this moment in the fabric of the building, when we all worked together to ensure that Battersea’s former Town Hall lives on, as a public, cultural space for everyone to come together.
Links to press pieces and blogs: Lyn Gardner blog; Evening Standard article; Independent article; and if you are not on Daniel Kitson’s mailing list then ask someone who is to forward you his email from yesterday, he is a legend.
MARCH 18 2015 – MAKING PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
Yesterday the front third of the building seemed to be full of babies. Including our Duty Manager Matt, who popped in with his son strapped to his chest, as you can see, he was keen direct traffic! It was great to have so many families back in the building…it felt like hope for the future.
Practical plans are starting to emerge. We are camped out in the Committee Room next to the Council Chamber. We have printed out (some are handwritten) the hundreds and hundreds of emails and text messages of support. It is providing a great way for the whole team to see the offers of support and get in touch with people direct. Tuesday was a productive day: continuing to work with our insurers through the claims process; working with our architects Haworth Tompkins and a wider team of experts who are helping us assess the fire site and work out next steps; engaging with a salvage team from Historic Royal Palaces who have brilliantly offered to help with this important side of the recovery.
The building is currently made-up of three parts. The front third is up and running, and people can support us by buying tickets to shows, coming and supporting the Scratch Bar and enjoying the Battersea buzz. The middle third is the building site for our capital project, unaffected directly by the fire, and we hope to get builders back on site as soon as we can to work towards completion on this project, as planned. And then the back third, the Grand Hall, is where we are currently planning safe and salvage works, as we step forwards towards rebuilding.
Through the immense generosity of local and London-wide venues, we are finding homes for performances that were due to be in the Grand Hall over the next few months. The local 4 Thieves, the Southbank Centre and others. We will provide a full list and details on our website as they emerge. Thank you so much to those valued colleagues. But we are also thinking beyond the immediate. It is going to take a long time – it’s not clear how long yet – to rebuild. So we are exploring the idea of creating a temporary theatre space, perhaps even one in which the infrastructure we use can then be used back in our rebuilt space. For this we need to find a big building – a warehouse, open studio or building site – ideally with a roof, and power, and the potential for us to get a license! – that we can occupy and create a temporary Grand Hall. More on this soon. If anyone knows of a possible site or building, let me know.
A few people have asked why we need a fighting fund if we are insured, it’s a perfectly reasonable question. We hope the insurance will cover most essential costs but it will never be able to cover all the immense changes that we will have to go through over the next two or three years, the investment in new ways of working. Every penny of the fighting fund that is still, thankfully, growing day by day, will go towards the recovery of the organisation so we can keep all of our activities going, we don’t want to let anyone down because of this fire, indeed it will make us stronger. It will make us fight even harder for what we believe in…for us to come together, to take creative risks and shape our future. That’s why all those babies were in the building yesterday!…because they were reminding us that we are doing this for them, this building, this community, this arts organisation, it’s theirs, and we need to make sure it is here to help them grow, to develop, to be creative.
MARCH 19 2015 – PLUTO IS SAFE!
On Wednesday Pluto, Battersea Arts Centre’s proud theatre cat, emerged unscathed. That was definitely one of his lives used up. I have never actually seen him admit that he is pleased to see us – this event is truly bringing us all together! Strangely, and rather unfortunately, he doesn’t look like he’s lost any weight in the intervening period.
I went down to the edge of the fire site and had a proper look for the first time. Until now, I have been keeping myself focussed on the task in hand, opening the front of the building, supporting my team, getting the shows on, shaping the phoenix plan. To be honest, I have also not dared to deal with my feelings, to see the fire-site close-up. But the task-in-hand is as much about the site as anything else, so I needed to see it. As I put my boots and hard hat on, I pinched myself hard. It didn’t work.
It is an extraordinary sight. It is like the Hall has held the fire, almost protecting the rest of the building from damage. A new wave of gratitude for the fire fighters swept over me. Every time I look up to see the sun sparkling through the octagonal dome, I will think of them. I won’t say much more at this stage, other than if you, like me, have deep feelings for that space, then know this, we will breathe life in to her again, she will live to tell the story of the last week, for at least another 120 years.
In the morning, there was a great meeting with Haworth Tompkins, and terrific support from Wandsworth Borough Council and their safety team on site, and also from the Historic Royal Palaces salvage team. The team grappling with the issues on the site of the fire are working superbly. I have regular flashes of them on horseback, knights in shining armour.
We have loved the shows in this building this week. Caroline Horton and Derby Playhouse have been here as part of A Nation’s Theatre, as is Verity Standen who wrote a lovely blog in Guardian about making work in Bristol. The sold-out run of Fiction continues, Daniel Kitson is doing three shows a day of his new show. Gecko’s unplugged Missing went on sale at the Southbank Centre for Friday night and the free ticket were gone by the end of the day, see you there if you’re going. Next week’s comedy, including Josie Long has switched venue to the Four Thieves across the road.
On Tuesday we had the Mayor and Mayoress of Wandsworth come to see us, on their way to attend an event with the Queen. It was good of them to make time to stop off and see us. One of the best ways to support the organisation right now is to come to the building, enjoy the Scratch Bar, day or night, buy tickets for shows, use The Bee’s Knees. The building has been buzzing, and this makes a massive difference to all of us.
A clear Phoenix plan is beginning to emerge as to what happens next – and tonight we will take that to our Board. I plan to share it tomorrow on this blog. The plan involves a number of ways in which people can get involved, whether to support the organisation’s next steps, donate, or come to a number of events, including one to celebrate the history of the Grand Hall. More tomorrow. Thanks for reading these missives.
MARCH 20 2015 – ONE WEEK ON & SIX WAYS TO HELP
Friday – it’s one week on from the fire in which Battersea Arts Centre’s Grand Hall was severely damaged. Your interest and offers of support continue to move us beyond words. You have kept us going; you make it possible and you give us strength. Thank you. Lots of people have asked how can we help?
So below are 6 ways to get involved and help this phoenix rise from the ashes.
1 – Come to Battersea Arts Centre
We are open: buy a ticket, come to the Scratch Bar for food and drinks, for those who have under 5’s please enjoy The Bee’s Knees, carry on being creativewith us, join our membership programmes including The Great Hundred Club. Or volunteer to usher our shows. We are proud to offer free membership to our Friends programme to every one of the fire fighters and police who fought the fire last Friday.
2 – Donate to the Phoenix Fund
The brilliant National Funding Scheme set up a donate page last Friday. You can also now donate through the Battersea Arts Centre website if you prefer. We have had amazing donations to this fund, every donation counts from the £1 coin I saw an 8 year old put in a bucket yesterday, to the £1,000 generous donations of other organisations, to the £100,000 donations of major companies. We also ask you to save the date for the night of Saturday 18 April when there will be a major fundraiser at a central London venue to be announced next week. You can also call our box office to donate on 020 7223 2223 or send cheques to Phoenix Fund, Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London SW11 5TN. Also, many people are arranging their own collections, auctions, art sales, sponsored marathons and school bake sales and we’re so happy for this to happen. The incident is covered by insurance but we will go through major change over the next three years and insurance will not cover everything, so the Phoenix Fund will be our working capital to get through this and rebuild.
3 – Offering stuff
Thank you to everybody for the incredible offers of space, offices, laptops and equipment. We thought it would be useful to create a list of what we still need.
- SPACE – Do you know of a building large enough to help us recreate a Grand Hall theatre, in London, as near to Battersea as possible, available for between 6 months and 12 months?! Contact AndrewB@bac.org.uk Thanks to those who have already brilliantly offered local space including Devas, Southfields, Providence House and all the local shops and cafes for their help the weekend of the fire.
- KIT – Huge thanks to Whitelight, Mark Dakin at NT, Stage Electrics and Ivor at the Young Vic for offering so much kit and support. We are accepting offers of any lighting equipment, such as lanterns, cable, consoles; any sound equipment such as microphones, amps, speakers, cable, mixing desks; any AV equipment, such as projectors, cradles and cable; any storage equipment, such as flight cases and amp racks; any staging equipment, such as dance floor, steel deck, handrails and treads. Kit Contact MattO@bac.org.uk
- OFFICE EQUIPMENT – In terms of IT equipment, huge thanks to ICT for helping us get up and running again. At this point, spare laptops are appreciated because our team are working in much more mobile ways! We also need a stock of tables and chairs if anyone who is offloading some. Office Equipment Contact NatalieR@bac.org.uk
- ADVERTISING SPACE – Can you help us with free advertising space to celebrate the fact that Battersea Arts Centre is open on Lavender Hill and help us communicate where the Grand Hall shows are happening across London? Contact KatieE@bac.org.uk
4 – Offering time
We are looking for someone, or a local committee, to help us run a poster campaign across Wandsworth to tell people that we are open and to get the Phoenix Fund out there with different groups and networks. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
5 – Help us remember the Grand Hall
Today at 4.20pm, to mark the moment one week on from the start of the fire, you can tweet your memory of the Grand Hall. We will collect all the memories for when we rebuild and for our digital archive. #BACPhoenix We will soon send out a ‘Save The Date’ for an event when people can come together and remember this extraordinary public space. We will also soon begin organising visits to the Grand Hall for those that want to spend a moment with the space. If you want to visit please email email@example.com. You can also share imaginary events in Grand Hall created by Andy Field or record your memory of the Grand Hall on the Battersea Arts Centre digital archive.
6 – If you are funder…
…we have four needs at the moment:
1. Completing the fundraising target for our existing and unaffected capital project, which has £500,000 remaining. This will enable us to open more of the front of the building in early 2016;
2. Supporting our existing programmes at a time when the organisation will be stretched to the limit to deal with all the additional challenges;
3. Creating a temporary Grand Hall in which we can present all the amazing artists and shows we have booked for the coming year including those for A Nation’s Theatre;
4. Re-building the Grand Hall for the future as a space for performance, ceremony, debate, and as a home for Wandsworth’s heritage.
We hope that all the funders who have made the organisation what it is today will step forward, and we also hope that we can create new relationships to deal with all the additional challenges we now face.
Thank you all so very much. Everyone’s support has been incredible over the last week. After dealing with the immediate aftermath and re-opening, now the hard work really begins. The way that everyone is pulling together is phenomenal, and we hope people will stick with us in the weeks and months ahead, to keep us going to give birth to an even more remarkable organisation and building. Thank you all again for your love and support.
P.S. If you have already written to me then I will be going through every single email and text message early next week and responding. But if the above 6 ways to help and get involved inspires you to action, in the meantime, then that’s great!
P.P.S. Why help? What’s the plan? What are we going to do next? This is our plan…
Firstly, we will continue to:
- Present and develop amazing shows
- Provide play space for families, our Family Saturdays and shows for all the family
- Run the Scratch Bar as a great place to hang out, eat and drink
- Develop the university of creativity in partnership with QMUL, Kings College and others
- Launch our first digital commission with The Space
- Work with The Guardian on A Nation’s Theatre
- Continue our young people’s programmes including the Hourglass Festival next week, and Homegrown, The Agency, Beatbox Academy and Young Producers
- Collaborate with schools, develop our new partnership with Katherine Low Settlement and continue our Tea Dances
- Grow our relationship with Wandsworth Museum which promises to be an exciting new model for cultural and heritage organisations
- Work with our partners in Hull, Great Yarmouth, Thanet, Torbay, Gloucester and Darlington to co-create regular festivals in 2015/16. As well as sustaining this amazing consortium, we hope to establish a new Collaborative Touring Network in late 2016
- Continue our Take Out programme, which will include a nationwide tour of Little Bulb Theatre’s Orpheus this autumn and international touring for The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey
- Complete our current capital redevelopment by Spring 2016
- Plan for future weddings, beer festivals, conferences, celebrations, debates and fairs.
And soon we will be announcing three new exciting partnership projects for 2015 and 2016.
Secondly, our new challenges are to:
- Recreate our office base in another part of the building
- Relocate Grand Hall shows in the short-term to other theatres who are brilliantly offering support
- Recreate a temporary Grand Hall to host shows over the coming year
- Rebuild the Grand Hall for the future
- Reimagine our business model for Battersea Arts Centre
MARCH 24 2015 – GOVERNMENT SUPPORTS BATTERSEA ARTS CENTRE
Government steps in to support Battersea Arts Centre with £1million – how will the money be used?
The front of the building is buzzing this week with Battersea’s young people who have created the Hourglass Festival. This is a week of performances, music and debate programmed by our Young Producers working with members of Homegrown, the Beatbox Academy and The Agency. The festival includes young people from Deptford’s Albany, Ipswich’s New Wolsey and Manchester’s Contact. It is a week for optimism and shaping the future. Do come and support these inspiring young creatives and help them develop their great ideas.
The Hourglass Festival is great cause for positivity. However, a quick walk round the back of the building offers a stark reminder of the scale of the challenge that faces Battersea Arts Centre in the coming years. Yesterday, the Government stepped in and offered £1million towards recovery and renovation. I would like to offer huge thanks to Battersea’s MP, Jane Ellison, who invited Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, to come to Battersea last Monday, and who has fought to secure help for the organisation. I really appreciate Jane’s support. Thank you to Sajid Javid MP and George Osborne MP who have backed Battersea Arts Centre in this moment and to Arts Council England for their brilliant guidance and friendship over these past ten days.
As I said in a previous blog, this cause goes across party politics, the support we had from the local Labour party on the night of the fire was crucial. The groundswell of support for the organisation, across political divides, local and national government, across different communities, across art forms, across culture, heritage, education…the breadth of the support continues to give us resolve to rebuild Battersea Arts Centre in to an even stronger organisation, that inspires people to take creative risks and shape the future.
As the dust settles, as financial support comes in, and as the needs of the organisation and building become clearer by the day, I thought it would be useful to set out our position, especially in terms of fundraising.
Before the fire, Battersea Arts Centre had two focuses for its fundraising:
- Annual revenue fundraising target – every year the organisation raises around £600,000 to maintain its programme of activities;
- Remaining capital target – during this year the organisation was raising £500,000 for refurbishment of the front half of the building which was not affected by the fire and there was also money to raise through the 60 memberships left for The Great Hundred Club.
After the fire, Battersea Arts Centre has two additional challenges:
- Phoenix Fund – created in response to this emergency. We think that a £1million Phoenix Fund will enable the organisation to tackle the challenges of not having the Grand Hall for up to three years.
- Rebuild Fund – the organisation is now looking ahead to how we rebuild the Grand Hall and what is needed in order to ensure that Battersea Arts Centre emerges from this crisis in better shape.
To date, individuals and organisations have donated £100,000 which is incredible. Our good neighbour, Battersea Power Station, has donated a further £100,000. And yesterday, the government added £1,000,000.
So how will the funds be used?
- None of the funds raised in response to the fire will go towards our annual fundraising target (1). But we do ask that Trusts, Foundations and individual donors continue to support us to maintain the organisation’s innovative programme of activities during this time;
- £500,000 of the government’s investment will meet our remaining capital target(2) so that we now just have to raise money through our 60 remaining Great Hundred memberships for the existing capital project
- The other £500,000 of the government’s investment will go towards our Phoenix Fund(3) along with the £200,000 from public donations and Battersea Power Station, totalling £700,000 for the Phoenix Fund to date. This leaves us with a further £300,000 to raise– we have a massive fundraiser happening on 18th April at Royal Festival Hall to help us get closer to £1million.
We are currently working on the shape and scale of the Rebuild Fund. We are working very closely with our insurers and we obviously aim for the majority of the rebuild costs to be covered by insurance. Big thanks to Aviva, our insurer, and Wrightsure, our broker, who are both being brilliantly supportive in this moment. We will also look to be true to the values of Battersea in the way we go about rebuilding the Hall and want to explore how we can all work together to create something extraordinary, for everyone, out of the ashes of the fire. We will work on the plan for the rebuild over the coming month and announce plans on this site.
Thank you again to everyone who is stepping forward to support the organisation. People have been generous in commenting that we have responded well, but let me tell you, it is daily offers of support from individuals, organisations and now government, that is making this all possible. This is not just our response to a fire, this is your response, and it means we will become an even stronger organisation, thanks to you.
You can donate to the Phoenix fund
If you would like support with any fundraising please email Rosie Spiegelhalter firstname.lastname@example.org
MARCH 30 2015 – BRAVING THE WIND
All weekend I listened to the wind with some trepidation. We are trying to secure the beautiful gable ends of the Grand Hall through a series of emergency works. So high winds have lost their thrill for us right now. The gable ends still stand proud today and our efforts to make the Grand Hall site safe continues apace. If you want to visit the site or talk with someone about what happens next, just email email@example.com to register your interest. Pippa will contact you when we have a clearer idea on the timetable for site visits.
Our Easter-week action-list looks something like this:
- complete emergency works to Grand Hall site;
- work up a re-build plan with English Heritage, Wandsworth Council and the thousands of people who care passionately about this wonderful space;
- support the Grand Hall shows that are currently off-site (thanks to the amazing theatres who have stepped-in);
- we are also on to plans to create a temporary Grand Hall for all our A Nation’s Theatre shows;
- complete the line-up for the Phoenix Fundraiser on 18th April (thanks to inspirational artists who have already stepped forwards)
- …and sell 2,500 tickets in two weeks flat! We can do it!! If you want to pass on the link to the gig, then it’s here.
Last week, the front of the building was full of the Hourglass Festival with 100’s of young people from London, Ipswich, Manchester and elsewhere. It was a week full of optimism and helped us all remember what we are doing this for. We were especially proud of our Agents who featured in the Telegraph’s Saturday magazine. Their new social enterprises also featured in the festival last week. [I especially loved the sold-out I Am Next gig on Friday and buying my Lavender Scrub from Sydney’s Naturals. I smell better than usual today.]
On Friday, I worked with colleagues to go through every email and text message of support, from the last two weeks, so we can write back to everyone properly to say a big thank you. Two weeks on from the fire, it was an emotional afternoon. There were messages from neighbours, artists, ex-staff, ex-Trustees, local schools, local businesses, people who have got married in the Hall, local councillors and officers from Wandsworth Council, other regional councils from around the UK, students and universities from around the UK, dance and theatre companies and orchestras, dozens of amazing colleagues from the What Next? movement, leaders from the Clore fellowship programme, colleagues from the Collaborative Touring Network, the London Theatre Consortium, and national companies and venues, including a lot from Manchester (thanks Manchester!), venues in continental Europe, USA, Australia and Brazil, loads from our partners at Wandsworth Museum, alongside many other museums and heritage organisations, environmental companies, funders, the Mayor of London, the Mayor of Wandsworth, the Leader & Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, the Chancellor and Secretary of State for Culture, colleagues at BBC, UK artist development programmes, UK festivals, arts consultants, design consultants and dangerous building contractors offering free support, plus a lady across the road who has offered us tea in her kitchen any time we need it.
All the actions that lie ahead are all made possible because of this support. The breadth of support illustrates how people think of cultural spaces in a similar way to the way they think about our schools, our hospitals, our libraries, or other public buildings that are part of the fabric of our communities. Our minds are now turning to how we can repay all this support, with interest. It is exciting to look ahead to the programmes and activities we can offer in the future, inspiring more people to take creative risks.
April 21 2016 – A YEAR ON FROM THE FIRE
On Sunday March 13th 2016 there was a gathering at Battersea Arts Centre to mark the anniversary of the fire and say a big thanks to neighbours and friends for sheer amazingness over the last year.
I couldn’t be there because exactly a year on from the fire my wife was in labour! Our daughter was born at on Monday 14th March 2016. It was remarkable way to bring a challenging year to an end.
With all your brilliant support over the last year, both for the organisation and the building, we have kick-started a whole bunch of new beginnings. I thought you might like to see a summary of what you have helped us achieve.
- The Grand Hall will be rebuilt by Spring 2018. Your feedback on the designs has helped shape a building that will host debates, celebrations and performances for generations to come. I said we would rebuild “brick by brick” and the brilliant team on the project have ensured we will reuse up to 10,000 bricks from the original building. The new Grand Hall seeks to honour the heritage of the past whilst creating a more flexible building that can be used by more people every year;
- Our new core purpose is up and running: to inspire people to take creative risks to shape the future. I think it’s having a positive influence on the way we connect with a wider range of people locally and nationally. We no longer see ourselves as an organisation whose purpose it is to create culture and distribute it! We want to help everyone to develop creative ideas;
- We have begun new programmes to inspire people to get creative in their personal & working lives:
- Agents of Creative Change partners artists with people working in the public and third sector to help them tackle a specific challenge with their own creativity;
- the Create Course offers a 10-week programme for local people to get in touch with their creativity and find different ways of using it in everyday life;
- and we are developing a hub for creative businesses, to open in 2018, as an incubator for new ideas, mixing with artists and other creative businesses;
- We have grown our existing programmes that support people to develop creative ideas:
- The Agency with Contact in Manchester is helping more young people to develop social enterprises. We will host an event at the House of Commons in May and plan to create a national model;
- the Collaborative Touring Network is expanding to support eight independent producers to develop new cultural hubs in towns and cities around the country;
- building on our heritage work, we have become a museum, merging with Wandsworth Museum. See our new page on the BAC Moving Museum for more details on how we will be exploring our shared heritage in creative ways;
- We have continued to experiment with our programme of theatre and support for artists:
- we are currently enjoying a festival under the banner of A Nation’s Theatre, with over 350 artists from outside London working with 17 organisations in London to shine a light on the depth and breadth of brilliant theatre being created across the UK;
- with reduced space in Battersea, we worked with BBC and Arts Council England on a new arts for television experiment which the Guardian Leader column called “the start of a new spirit in the BBC” and we’ve just distributed a new callout for 2016 and beyond;
- we have redeveloped our artist support model into 10 different strands of support to try and ensure we provide better support for artists and that the model is more transparent.
Someone told me a story recently about the sequoia trees in the Yosemite National Park in the USA. Some of these trees are over 3,000 years old and grow taller than a twenty-five story building. In recent decades they realised that they only germinate in extreme heat, a realisation that followed a massive fire, leading to a new generation of these mighty trees. In every crisis there are new beginnings. And with your remarkable kindness and moral support, following the fire in Battersea’s Grand Hall, we are enjoying new beginnings too, planting seeds that we hope will grow strong in the future.
Alongside looking to the future, we have also carried out investigations into the cause of the fire. Investigations have been led by the fire brigade and by insurance companies. They have been inconclusive so along with almost half of all fires we do not know what caused the blaze. The London Fire Brigade commended the speed with which we evacuated the building and the fire safety measures we had in place. And we are working hard to ensure every appropriate preventative measure is in place for the rebuild. Do get in touch with me if you want more info on the fire prevention approaches we have in place.
Losing the entire back half of our building for three years has meant that our loss of income and capacity has hit us hard. And even when we re-open in 2018 we know it will take us a year to get up to full speed on renting the space, catering and other business income. From a financial perspective, you have laid the foundations of our recovery:
- with public donations and moral support;
- with equipment and expert support from partner organisations;
- with a decisive response from national government to underpin the recovery;
- with immediate and brilliant support from Aviva, our insurers;
- with support from funders to enable us to sustain our new programmes.
We are so grateful to all of you. And it’s not all been about money, it’s been about your acts of kindness, it’s been about you volunteering time, it’s been about you being in infectiously good spirits, it’s been about you helping us redesign the Grand Hall and it’s been about helping us look to the future. Our recovery belongs to you.
We have some big challenges ahead. Some are financial, such as filling the gap in our loss of income to 2019 and some are about continuing to strengthen our programmes of activity following the fire. We are planning a fundraiser and auction this autumn when we will be half way towards re-opening the Grand Hall.
We also continue to grow our partnerships to explore the role that creativity can play in all walks of life. And later this year, we will publish a simple booklet that describes the ways in which the Scratch process can work in different contexts. It have been a creative and collaborative approach that has underpinned our recovery and is at the heart of our new core purpose.
Thanks to all of you who have backed us over the last year.
If you believe in what we do, please keep supporting, in whatever way, if you can. We simply could not have done this without your support.
MARCH 13 2017 – TWO YEARS AGO TODAY THE GRAND HALL WAS BURNING DOWN
Two years ago today, the Grand Hall was burning down.
One year ago today, my wife was in a long labour.
Today, I shall be keeping a low profile!
There have been times when the re-opening of the Grand Hall has felt a long way off…but it is SO AMAZING to be able to say THE GRAND HALL WILL RE-OPEN NEXT YEAR!
It is only because of the generosity of so many people that this is the case.
Battersea Arts Centre can now look to the future.
But I don’t want to forget all the heroes without whom we would not be saying WE ARE GOING TO RE-OPEN THE GRAND HALL NEXT YEAR!…WHOOP BLOODY WHOOP!…
So on the 2nd anniversary of the fire, my heart goes out to the people who have made every miracle happen over the last two years…
• our building manager Tim Hopkins who dashed back in to the building
(when he certainly should not have) to get the building plans for the fire
• the fire crews who pinpointed the blaze and did an incredible job to stop it spreading
• Stella Duffy who coined the hashtag #BACPhoenix to give us all hope and to all the other amazing Twitter and Facebook responses that showed that social media can be an amazing force for good
• Steve Tompkins and his team of architects, designers and conservation specialists who were onsite by 5pm and who don’t seem to have ever left!
• the local emergency services who made sure we could re-open 26 hours after the fire and have been open every day since
• the local cafes and companies who let us camp out in the weeks after the fire
• our local council who gave us practical support in the immediate aftermath and continue to support our activities for local people
• artist Jake Tilson who became like a resident coal-miner in the weeks after the fire, salvaging thousands of precious pieces of Grand Hall history and documenting them in a beautiful book
• the guy who lives a couple of streets over who walked in the front doors of the building two weeks after the fire, just at the point when we could not find a dangerous structures company to stabilise the ruins, and who offered us the services of, you guessed it, his dangerous structures company, Deconstruct, for no profit
• all the venues who hosted the artists and shows that’d been made homeless
• all the local organisations who backed us every step of the way
• all the arts organisations who leaned in and protected us
• all our local and national politicians who stepped up and supported the organisation
• all the funders who have been flexible, creative and who’ve enabled us to survive, including Arts Council, HLF, Paul Hamlyn, Esmée Fairbairn and Mayor of London
• the team at Battersea Power Station kick started our fighting fund with £100k after seeing the flames across the rooftops in Battersea
• the 1000s of people who have donated, written to us and offered moral support at all times of the day and night
• the thoughtful and enlightened conservation experts who have enabled us to shape an exciting rebuild plan for the Grand Hall
• the imaginative and supportive crew at our insurers, Aviva, who are covering the costs of the rebuild and who have recognised that it’s better for everyone if we update the Grand Hall as we rebuild
• Pluto the cat for his miraculous survival instincts and helping us all keep a sense of perspective at all times
• all the people who have responded resolutely
• all the people who have responded creatively
• all the people who have responded emotionally
• all our neighbours who have put up with a three-year extension to building works on Lavender Hill
• all the amazing staff and volunteers and trustees who have had faith and who have worked their socks off to get us to this point
• to Noah, age 8, from John Burns Primary School, who reminded us recently that “In a special space you can think in a big way and show you really care” a terrific guiding thought for the past and future of the Grand Hall
• and last bit not least to the great old Grand Hall herself, who absorbed the heat of the fire, and who sacrificed herself to save the rest of the building
To all of
you I dedicate the fact that today we can say…
WE WILL RE-OPEN THE GRAND HALL NEXT YEAR AND IT WILL BE A TOTALLY BLOODY GORGEOUS THING!
In a climate of Brexit division and Trump isolationism we need public gathering spaces more than ever. To celebrate, reflect, rally and imagine the future together.
Over the coming year and a bit major strides in the rebuild of the Grand Hall will take place and brick by brick she will come back to us. I would love your help to think about how we might honour her return.
I want us to host half a dozen events in the first “Phoenix Season” in autumn 2018, to pour memories back in to the space and also to look to the future.
What should those events be?
For example, I thought it could be be fun to invite everyone who ever got married in the Grand Hall to join together in a mass vow-renewing-ceremony!
What events could we hold to celebrate the Grand Hall’s history and to look to our collective future?
Visit bac.org.uk/phoenixrising if you have ideas and want to find out more.