March 20, 2015
Battersea Arts Centre re-emerges from the flames
by Zeljka Marosevic
There was major concern on Friday when a huge fire broke out in Battersea Arts Centre, an important independent arts and theatre venue in London. The huge blaze, which required 12 fire engines to bring it under control, destroyed the roof of the building, part of which collapsed.
But fire fighters did manage to stop the fire before it spread from the roof, saving the front of the Grade II listed building which was originally built as the local Town Hall. Even more miraculously, by Saturday night, the theatre was showing performances once again.
This is no mean feat considering that the building has suffered significant damage, and just as the theatre was undergoing major renovation. But such a quick recovery is testament to a strong theatre and strong commitment from the community it serves. Artistic Director David Jubb and his team have already launched “Team Phoenix”, the group of staffers who will help plan the next steps for the centre as it repairs and survives.
Writing in The Observer, Lyn Gardner praised the theatre and underlined what makes it so special:
BAC’s influence has spread far and into every layer of British theatre and every aspect so that it is part of our theatrical DNA. But it has also understood that whatever its place in a national theatre…it counts for nothing unless it plays a central role in the local community.…
On Friday afternoon local people stood and cried as the building burned, a sign of just how embedded it has become in the hearts and lives of Wandsworth families. No wonder it had a hit with a terrific family show called ‘The Good Neighbour’.
The theatre’s investment in the community has paid of during this time of need. As Charlotte Higgins wrote in The Guardian, local people have flocked to support its theatre:
“Local schools have baked cakes; other theatres have offered space and support; £70,000 in donations has flooded in; even the Brownies have pitched in. A wall in the staff’s temporary office has pinned on it hundreds of messages of support and solidarity… This is the sign, indeed, of a beloved institution right at the heart of its community.”
And just when everyone was beginning to lose hope, five days after the fire, the theatre’s beloved cat Pluto was finally found. Pluto was “hungry, unusually desirous of hugs and affection, but strong and healthy.”
Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.