Battersea Arts Centre
Type: Former Town Hall / Theatre and Events Venue
Location: Battersea, London
Owner: Wandsworth Council
Lessee: Battersea Arts Centre
Operated as a successful arts centre and performance venue since 1980, the asset transfer of Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) has unlocked the full potential of this heritage asset through engaging with the community and enabling a major capital redevelopment with the backing of multiple funders.
Battersea Town Hall was originally built in 1893 by Edward W. Mountford and had been a melting pot for radical politics since the early days of the Trades Union movement, Independent Labour Party and the campaign for women's suffrage. The building contains some 70 rooms, including a theatre space, and has been added to over the years to accommodate expansion and new uses - though not always sensitively to the heritage value of the building.
When Battersea Borough was absorbed into Wandsworth in 1965 the building became surplus to the requirements of the authority and was threatened with demolition. A local campaign was formed, resulting in a Grade II* listing in 1970 which blocked the proposed demolition and marked the start of new life for the building, initially as a council-run arts centre, and subsequently as an independent arts centre operated by the Battersea Arts Centre Charity from 1980. Since then BAC have led on innovative and radical arts and theatre projects, always with an interest in how the theatre could give back something to the community and be part of the local economy.
From 1980 to 2008 BAC occupied the centre on a string of short-term leases which, while enabling activity to continue, did not allow for sufficient investment in maintenance. It was the asset transfer of the centre in 2008 that unlocked its full potential with the start of a £13m restoration programme. This has re-established the theatre space in a way that is sensitive to the building's heritage value, with a focus on improving and enabling access. A 120-year lease was subsequently granted with an initial rent-free period of 20 years.
A successful model
Battersea Arts Centre now welcomes 200,000 visitors a year, drawing on a national audience for shows alongside local communities who come to access a variety of services for children, young people and families. The services meet a range of local needs using exploration of the arts as a common foundation, with examples including a children's cinema and a pottery studio. The centre has been able to provide a base for youth activities and parent groups at a time when statutory funding for these services has been reduced locally.
The organisation is governed by 15 board members bringing a range of professional experiences, as well as local representation in the form of councillors, the local MP, philanthropists and residents, the majority of whom live or work in the area.
Battersea's motto writ large on the walls of the centre provides a valuable reminder as to the community benefit of this much-loved building.
“non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis”
(Not for me, not for you, but for us)
BAC have extended their mission to “invent the future of theatre” through a process they have coined 'playgrounding'. This unique approach involves developing ideas through collaboration before testing them in a series of low-cost investments, allowing BAC to test out different ways of using the building before committing to more permanent and expensive redevelopments. The process brings into line BAC's programmes of innovative and artistic work, along with the physical development and heritage conservation. Through this they have created new opportunities for community engagement along the way.
The annual income for the organisation is approximately £2.7m, which comes from three strands of roughly equal significance: grants and service contracts (from the local authority and Arts Council England); fundraising (trusts, foundations, membership and private giving); and earned income (ticket sales, catering and event hire).
The capital programme of development totals £13.3m. £4m was secured from Arts Council England (ACE), Big Lottery Fund, Wandsworth Borough Council and other funders to address urgent internal restoration. Further grants of £9.3m (including £2.5m from Heritage Lottery Fund and £4.6m from ACE) have been secured. BAC have also won the support of local philanthropists, securing substantial gifts towards the restoration.
The Charity also operate a membership scheme as a mechanism to raise funds and support for the building, ranging from £20 for a basic membership offering discounts and priority bookings up to £1,000 for premium membership. This scheme generates approximately £130,000 per annum.