Greenwich Theatre at Risk
Folks – it’s been a few days – sorry – ridiculous amounts on the Phantom plate just now. But I think it’s about time we started chewing on a few rumours that have been circulating and while I’m not panicking just yet, the ball should at least get rolling in our minds.
I’ve been hearing rumours at Phantom towers – slips and drips of information that I think you should know and we should discuss. This is going to be long post – sorry – but it all needs to come out and I won’t be able to rest until I’ve shared my fears.
Before I even get started on Greenwich Council’s rather strange new policies re. the arts I want to take you back – as I have done several times on this blog, to the late 1960s early 1970s when Greenwich was in turmoil. There was serious risk of a massive ring-road type motorway-thing being driven through the town centre as part of ‘modernisation’ plans, which would have seen off pretty much all of our historic town. However little we have left now, believe me there would have been less had the good burghers of Greenwich not fought tooth and claw against wholesale destruction.
At the same time other doughty Greenwichians (many of whom I am sure were the same guys we need to thank for saving the town centre…) were busy saving Greenwich Theatre. They held old time music halls, raffles, fund-raisers, dances – whatever – and didn’t just save the theatre they rebuilt it, then turned it into a performance space that attracted not just heavy-hitter actor and producers, but massive hitters.
We have the cuts of the 80s to thank for the loss of a West End class theatre in Greenwich, but despite a hiatus a few years ago when the place was temporarily closed, it has, so far managed to survive. The panto, as everyone who reads this blog will know, is a superb, but superb night out and the rest of the year there is a programme which while not always to my personal taste (though I do go, of course) continues to keep the theatre alive.
The Council are currently bigging-up as a good thing their plans to turn the beautiful Borough Hall (we’ll get onto that one in a minute) into a new-fangled ‘arts hub’. For this read ‘All Things to All Men and Nothing to Anyone.’ They’re planning to dump all their cash into one building and make all the arts groups work out of that. Believe me no one benefits from a multi-purpose space – it’s fit for no one.
My immediate thought on this was – what happens to the theatre? The one that the people of Greenwich built, not the council?
Currently we don’t know, but that’s where the rumours have been trickling my way, from various sources, none of them certain, but all of them worrying.
Apparently there’s been a consultation going on. I didn’t know about this, maybe it’s common knowledge, I’ve certainly been busy recently and things have been slipping by. Let’s assume I’ve been asleep.
The consultation has been thinking about what to do with Greenwich Theatre and a few possiblities have emerged.
OPTION ONE: To invest in both Borough Hall and Greenwich Theatre, work on the fabric of the building, improve front of house and generally make it all better. Of course this would be fantastic, but, call me a cynical Phantom but I’m not definitely counting on this one happening…
OPTION TWO: To sell both the Borough Hall and Greenwich Theatre on the open market and build a new-multi-purpose arts centre.
I will fight this tooth and boot. Both these assets belong to the people of Greenwich and it is not for an individual council to make a decision over a long-term asset. The Theatre, especially, would not exist but for the people of Greenwich. It is not theirs to sell.
I went to a class at GDA the other day and it was a pleasure – a superb floor, unencumbered by dents, nicks or spills because it is a dedicated dance space. Once a space starts to have to be ‘multipurpose’ it starts being not good for anything.
OPTION THREE: Sell Borough Hall and move GDA into a new dance space on the roof of Greenwich Theatre. The words ‘quart’ and ‘pint pot’ spring to mind. A ridiculous idea. The loss of such an asset is extremely short-termist.
OPTION FOUR: Sell Greenwich Theatre and move everything into Borough Hall. This seems to be what they’re planning to do – and trying, through Greenwich Time etc. to make it look like a good thing.
I repeat – if not actually, morally Greenwich Theatre is not the council’s to sell. It belongs to the people who saved it. We must not lose this facility.
I walked past the ‘Heart of East Greenwich’ the other day with a friend who was asking what would happen to the swimming pool at the Arches – I told her that we would be swapping two specialist swimming pools for one general pool with two shallow ends and no diving. We are actually going backwards with our sports facilities. We cannot allow this to happen with our arts too.
But the rumours continue – and not just rumours either. How about this planning application the council is applying to itself for? To add a Barratt-Homes-style extra storey on the top of Borough Hall? No drawings available (oddly… I’m sure they’d have asked anyone else applying for planning permission for a few elevations…) – but this is a beautiful late-art-deco building, balanced and fine. What the hell are they planning to do?
Worry, good citizens of Greenwich. Worry.