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Riverside Studios, real estate and redevelopment

The Green Room at the Clapham Omnibus. Eliza Power
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‘Money makes the world go round’. Oh Liza, doesn’t it just.

This week, inspired by Bryony Kimmings’ no nonsense blog, a number of fascinating pieces about money in the arts have been posted. Alan Lane‘s is particularly practical. Reading it I was reminded of what Leeds producer Dick Bonham said to me earlier this year “the communal act of theatre subverts the cubits of capitalism”. Straight afterwards I opened an email about the proposed development of Riverside Studios and my heart sank.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council want to turn Riverside Studios into a large block of luxury flats. I can’t think of anything that represents the ‘cubits of capitalism’ better than that. To placate troubled minds, a performance space, rehearsal rooms and cinema is being provided, but is this window dressing on a development that will undoubtedly change the social landscape of the area?

According to campaigners (Councillor Stephen Cowan and Ben Hurley to name but two) no provision for affordable housing, let alone social housing is to be made. Surely a token performance space can’t make up for a development so elitist it flies directly in the face of the egalitarian and communal nature of theatre.

Perhaps you think I’m being melodramatic, but the neighbours of the Clapham Omnibus certainly thought this way. After campaigning for seven years, they managed to convince Lambeth Council to hand over the old library building to a charitable trust and not developers.

Instead of being carved up into penthouses, the space is now a vibrant arts centre with a theatre, exhibition space, music room and cafe/bar. Campaigners and council supporters knew such a space would provide a social hub, doing much more for the neighbourhood than a few new private addresses ever could.

Of course homes and art can go hand in hand – just look at St Clements Hospital in Mile End. This decommissioned Victorian mental hospital is going to become the UK’s first urban community land trust, providing permanently affordable homes that are based on local income not market rates.

Run by the East London Community Land Trust, the site is currently being used as an arts space for Shuffle Festival. Run for the first time in August this festival – curated by Danny Boyle – celebrated what the space means to local people, and what this groundbreaking development could be.

It’s back from December 5 with Winter Shuffle, a seasonally themed programme of film screenings, performances and talks. Including Boyle, Dr Brian Cox and Jarvis Cocker as well as a plethora of storytellers, comedians, poets and performers the line up is fantastic.

In using the space in this way the East London Community Land Trust are opening the site up to the community it will eventually belong to. They are showing that art and real estate can work towards the same purpose – something enriching, communal and available to all.

Something tells me the new development at Riverside won’t do that. But take a look for yourself and see what you think  – public consultation closes in a week.

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