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Battersea Arts Centre's Grand Hall officially reopens
Battersea Arts Centre is a public space where people come together to be creative, see a show, explore the local heritage, play or relax. Photo: Morley von Sternberg.

LONDON.- Battersea Arts Centre’s Grand Hall officially reopened this past week after the fire that devastated it in 2015, following a rebuild by award-winning architects Haworth Tompkins. The opening is being marked with the Phoenix Season – a five month celebration of risk-taking and renewal - across what is now one of the most flexible arts centres in the country. The first full theatre show in the Hall, on Thursday 6 September, is Missing by acclaimed physical theatre company Gecko – the show that was in the space when it was destroyed, and now returns to finish its run. The Phoenix Season, supported by our Phoenix Partners - Bloomberg Philanthropies and Haworth Tompkins - continues with shows by National Theatre of Scotland, Bryony Kimmings, BAC Beatbox Academy, Dead Centre, Lekan Lawal, Little Bulb Theatre, The Paper Cinema, Lemn Sissay, the BAC Moving Museum and others.

The reopening is a major moment in a 12-year collaboration. Thanks to the National Lottery and range of corporate and individual funders, the £13.3m redevelopment effort has seen the Victorian fabric of the building conserved while ensuring it is fit for the future, with improved accessibility and flexible performance spaces.

David Jubb, Artistic Director and CEO of Battersea Arts Centre said: “The re-opening of the Grand Hall marks a massive moment for us – it’s the first time the entire building has been fully open for the public to explore for 12 years. This follows an iterative project which has renovated and opened up the whole building. When the flames rose above the Grand Hall on Friday 13 March 2015 it looked as if all that progress might be lost. But due to brilliant and brave firefighters – and the incredible generosity of more than 6,000 people and organisations - the building was saved and the Grand Hall is reborn!

“Now is the time to celebrate and so our Phoenix Season includes some of the UK’s most exciting theatre artists, with a series of breathtaking shows set against the stunning and theatrical environment of the Grand Hall. And the season also includes some of our most exciting work happening in partnership with our community in which we continue to support other people’s great ideas. We hope you can join us.”

Steve Tompkins, Founding Director of Haworth Tompkins said: “It’s been such privilege to be part of this long, experimental journey. In true BAC style, much of the work has been improvised and tuned as we went along through constant reappraisal and feedback, responding to circumstances and changing our plan when needed. I think this equipped us well to face up to the shock of the Grand Hall fire together and work out the most creative way to rebuild. As architects, artists, producers and members of the wider community, we set out to make BAC a place where everyone can feel part of a shared, creative risk-taking project, and for us the last twelve years’ collaboration has already fulfilled that ambition.”

Toby Jones, actor and patron of Battersea Arts Centre said: “Battersea Arts Centre has not just been restored, it has been revolutionised. The Grand Hall is now one of the most exciting and flexible venues in London. To alchemise beauty from rubble and grace from catastrophe is entirely consistent with the dynamic artistic and political history of this building. Battersea Arts Centre continues to scratch and sniff at what it means to be a popular participatory theatre in the twenty first century. I’m proud to be a small part of it."

The unique Haworth Tompkins rebuild has retained the walls that survived the fire and conserved them ‘as-found’ in their scorched, post-fire richness and complexity. A dramatic new lattice ceiling takes inspiration from the original 19th century design, while bringing the space into the 21st century. New technical infrastructure concealed in the roof allows natural ventilation and far greater technical and acoustic possibilities than ever before. The Lower Hall area has been redesigned into a new co-working space called the Scratch Hub which will provide a home for up to 150 creative and social entrepreneurs, and the Grand Hall Bar features a vibrant back bar installation by artist Jake Tilson, who meticulously recorded the damage in the weeks following the fire.

The reopening of the Grand Hall is a milestone moment in the ongoing 12-year partnership between Battersea Arts Centre and Haworth Tompkins. Adopting Battersea Arts Centre’s Scratch process, to test out architectural developments for the building, in partnership with artists, the building has gradually been transformed into a 21st century cultural and community centre. The traditional demarcations of auditorium, foyer and back of house spaces can be dissolved and reconfigured in multiple combinations. The partnership began with Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death in 2007-2008. Works progressed through a series of production partnerships with Kneehigh Theatre, the One on One Festivals and the London 2012 Olympics. These partnerships fed in to a master planning process for the building. The renovated building includes living accommodation for artists, making workshops, over 35 performance spaces with a capacity between 1 and 1,000, including a new open-air Courtyard Theatre, The Bees Knees – a creative play-space for young families - exhibition facilities for the new BAC Moving Museum, flexible co-working space, and emerging micro-allotments for neighbours and community groups.

The alterations have been informed by artistic director David Jubb’s ongoing project to transform how arts centres engage with people - shifting arts centres from being about the production of art, to being centres of art-making-process, where people are supported to develop and take forward their own ideas, whatever they may be. Programmes such as The Agency, which develops young people’s entrepreneurial skills, and co-working space the Scratch Hub, offer support for people to realise their own projects.

Throughout the celebratory opening Phoenix Season over 2,000 tickets for shows are available for £1. These will be targeted at people with low incomes through Battersea Arts Centre’s Local Roots programme with Wandsworth and Lambeth voluntary groups. Battersea Arts Centre is also launching a new Phoenix Award to offer talented artists the opportunity to develop their work and present it to larger audiences - an opportunity afforded by the re-opening of the Grand Hall. Battersea Arts Centre is working towards becoming a Relaxed Venue - a new initiative that builds on the principles of Relaxed Performances, which are designed to extend a warm welcome to people who might find it hard to follow the conventions of theatre etiquette.

The rebuild and redevelopment of the Grand Hall and Lower Halls has been made possible by Battersea Arts Centre’s insurers Aviva, along with generous support from Heritage Lottery Fund and National Lottery players, HM Government and Arts Council England, Greater London Authority and the Wolfson Foundation. A number of supporters helped sustain Battersea Arts Centre during the period of the recovery and rebuilding including over 6,000 supporters and donors who came to the rescue after the fire, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Battersea Power Station Foundation and many others. The support of Battersea Arts Centre’s Phoenix Partners - Bloomberg Philanthropies and Haworth Tompkins – has been crucial in enabling the Phoenix Season to take place in the renewed Grand Hall, the wider Phoenix programme including the Scratch Hub, Co-Creating Change and much else. Battersea Arts Centre’s lead funders are Arts Council England and Wandsworth Borough Council.

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