Brixton home for Ovalhouse theatre a step closer

Topping Out Ceremony at site of new theatre on Coldharbour Lane
Topping Out Ceremony: (LR) Deborah Bestwick CBE, Dulwich West Norwood MP Helen Hayes and pupils from Hill Mead Primary School

Ovalhouse Theatre’s move from Kennington to Brixton took a step closer at a topping out ceremony at the site of the new theatre on Coldharbour Lane last Friday (28 February).

Ovalhouse building site on Coldharbour Lane
The theatre building site in November 2019

Topping out is a builders’ rite traditionally held when the last beam (or equivalent) is placed atop a structure during its construction.

Topping Out Ceremony (LR) Coldharbour councillor Scarlett O’Hara; Cabinet Member for Planning, Investment and New Homes, Matthew Bennett; Dulwich & West Norwood MP Helen Hayes; and Lambeth Council leader Jack Hopkins
Topping Out Ceremony (LR) Coldharbour councillor Scarlett O’Hara; Cabinet Member for Planning, Investment and New Homes, Matthew Bennett; Dulwich & West Norwood MP Helen Hayes; and Lambeth Council leader Jack Hopkins

The scheme, which will be completed in the Spring next year, follows the theatre selling its site in Kennington and securing a £3million grant from the Arts Council England.

The new Brixton theatre designed by Edmund Wilson of Foster Wilson Architects will be a fully accessible space for artists and audiences with two theatre spaces, rehearsal studios, training facilities and spaces for community use.

Deborah Bestwick, director of Ovalhouse, said: “We’re bringing theatre back to Brixton. It is wonderful to see the structure go up and the space take shape. We look forward to welcoming new friends as audiences, participants, trainees and new staff members.”

“The new theatre will offer a new generation of theatre companies and artists a space to develop their work in Brixton and beyond. We are hugely grateful to our funder Arts Council England and partner Lambeth Council, and to the charities who have kickstarted our fundraising campaign including Cockayne, The Wolfson Foundation and The Garfield Weston Charitable Trust.”

The theatre has a long history of supporting new talent and offering artists and theatre makers a launchpad into the arts. Alongside the opening of the main theatre, the organisation has also been working with local Brixton primary schools and architects MATT+FIONA to construct a temporary theatre in the spring.

Matthew Bennett, Cabinet Member for Planning, Investment and New Homes, said: “I’m delighted we have reached this important milestone on what is a brilliant project for Brixton. Adding a world class theatre with a youth and community focus to the heart of Brixton supports so many of our aims as an organisation.

“This represents a huge cultural and financial investment on behalf of local people, and I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say we are eagerly anticipating the theatre opening its doors.”

Justine Simons OBE, Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries said: “This is such an exciting moment for Ovalhouse. The new theatre will be a brilliant addition to Brixton’s already thriving creative scene. Ovalhouse will be able to inspire more audiences and support many more artists, musicians, performers, writers and producers. Congratulations to everyone who has worked so hard to make it happen.”

Gavin Bridge, Managing Director of Galliford Try Southern, commented: “It’s great to be able to celebrate the progress we have made on what is such a significant project for Lambeth Council and the theatre.”

“It is always gratifying to work on schemes such as these which deliver lasting change to local communities and we look forward to finishing the project now and seeing the theatre up and running.”

artists impression of Brixton new theatreThroughout the year the theatre co-produces a series of ‘FiRST BiTES’ developed with emerging artists, as well as, participation and learning programmes for all ages and backgrounds. Current projects incude ‘Imagining Futures’ in partnership with NHS and SLaM supporting vulnerable young women aged 14-18 and ‘Demonstrate’ an engagement and performance workshop for autistic young people and their families and carers.

The theatre will continue their commitment to developing new work and engagement for all in their new home. There will be an offsite programme of work launching in the spring 2020 before the doors open to the new theatre in spring 2021.

To find out more about the history of Ovalhouse and past work visit www.ovalhouse.com and to keep updated on the development of the new theatre sign up the mailing list here.

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