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Battersea Arts Centre: ‘This house of dreams will rise again’

The fire-torn BAC. Photo: London Fire Brigade
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Theatre leaders from across the UK and beyond have rallied to support the fire-ravaged Battersea Arts Centre.

They were joined by members of the public and politicians – including culture secretary Sajid Javid and Labour leader Ed Miliband – who reacted in shock to the effects of the fire that destroyed the London venue’s Grand Hall.

BAC artistic director David Jubb told The Stage that despite being “devastated” by the fire, which broke out at around 4pm on Friday (March 13), the organisation was “resilient” and looking to the future. A fundraising campaign set up on the National Funding Scheme website has so far seen 2,000 people donate more than £70,000 to the venue.

A project called Team Phoenix has been launched, which will see BAC staff work towards the recovery of the building. The team has begun to seek alternative spaces for shows that were due to take place in the Grand Hall. Jubb said the venue’s £13 million redevelopment, which was in its final stages when the fire hit, was continuing as planned.

Messages of support for the venue flooded in as news of the fire broke on Friday. Former artistic director Tom Morris said: “This house of dreams will rise again”. He told The Stage: “The most extraordinary thing about this terrible fire is the capacity that Jubb and his team are showing to recover all of the strength of their unique organisation with what feels like a newly inspired energy. It is incredibly heartening to everyone involved in Britain’s creative industry to see the pioneering spirit of creative adventure that BAC stands for being so justly and simply cherished.”

Meanwhile, Miliband described it as “terrible” to see BAC “engulfed in flames”. In February, the Labour leader used the venue to outline his arts policies should he win May’s election.

Both Javid and Arts Council England chair Peter Bazalgette visited the site to offer their assistance. Former BAC chair Nick Starr said: “Who wouldn’t want to help people who are so determined that the show should go on?”

The news rapidly travelled around the world. Steph Walker, executive director of cultural body Performance Space in Australia, said on Twitter: “Battersea Arts Centre is my #1 top arts org in the UK, the building up in flames today. Devastating news to wake up to in Sydney.”

Despite the fire on Friday, performances resumed at the venue 24 hours later, on the Saturday evening. Jubb said  the front of the building had been saved by the fire brigade, which sent more than 12 fire engines and 80 officers.

He said: “We are feeling resilient and thinking about what we do, in true Battersea spirit, to sort this out – we are already looking at the next steps and what we can do to get the shows back on and about what happens in the next 12 months to rebuild the building. We are utterly overwhelmed with the support, outpouring and love for the organisation and building – it’s held us up in a difficult situation and has been extraordinary. The emergency services have been amazing.”

He added the final phase of the capital project, due to be completed in early 2016, “should be able to go ahead as planned”.

“This is because the parts of the building in which this project is happening are unaffected by the fire. This is a huge relief and means that the investment in that phase of the project is safe,” he said.

Jubb said that when the space was rebuilt, BAC would find a way to represent the “incredible love” it had received following the fire, the cause of which remains unknown.

“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,” he added.

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