A year on from the fire – an update

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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.

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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.

email: davidj@bac.org.uk

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