Battersea Arts Centre – A phoenix rising from the ashes, 125 years, Nov 2018

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Battersea Arts Centre on a special birthday night.

I have not written any blogs about my new role working for the Heritage Lottery Fund London Committee. Since I only joined in April, to be honest I haven’t really felt well placed to write about my experiences. It is a challenge, it is a little daunting and I feel I am on a steep learning curve. What I realised very quickly is what an absolute privilege it is to visit all sorts of projects, large and small, across London. I have been getting to some places I have never been to before and some I know well I am seeing in a completely new light.

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Only a few minutes walk from Clapham Junction.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), through the generosity of National Lottery Players, allows the various HLF committees and staff to change lives, bring communities together, care for heritage and, I guess, ultimately share stories. It is hard to get my head round the breadth and depth of the work and I am just starting out, just beginning to learn.

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The beautiful old town hall has over 80 rooms.

What is lovely is how, quite often, my blog crosses over with my HLF work, when I am learning about dementia programmes at Alexandra Palace (in the pipeline!) or writing about the fantastic engagement work that the RAF Museum and National Maritime Museum are undertaking, all with HLF funding.

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Can you spot David Jubb, artistic director and CEO of Battersea Arts Centre?

This week via my blog I was invited to celebrate the 125th birthday of the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) in South London. I found myself sitting alongside HLF colleagues invited to play their part in a birthday party with a bit of a difference. The HLF has funded and supported, along with many others, the BAC for many years. In 2015, months into a major re-development project, the arts and community space suffered a fire which destroyed the beautiful Grand Hall. With two thirds of the building intact, they kept going, kept rebuilding.

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Aftermath … what the architects were faced with after a fire in 2015 razed BAC’s grand hall. Photograph: Haworth Tompkins – https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/sep/06/like-something-from-pompeii-battersea-arts-centre-scorching-resurrection
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Speeches over time for a tour. Battersea Arts Centre Council Chamber.

IMG_4396My visit is for the 7th of what the BAC term their ‘Phoenix’ events, a year long celebration of rising from the ashes and being back in the business of bringing people together, inspiring young and old alike and using art and performance to change lives.

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David Jubb celebrates the contribution of all those who brought BAC back to life.

The facts seem quite impersonal, celebrations can feel quite ephemeral, they come and they go. But I was not prepared for how emotional my visit was. David Jubb, artistic director and CEO gave us a very warm welcome, he spoke of the building and the people who are connected with it in such passionate terms. In fact all those that gave speeches on the night did so from the heart, they spoke not because it was a requirement of their job but because the BAC has touched them, it is a part of them and they are a part of it.

IMG_4398Part of David’s speech was to celebrate all those at the HLF who had committed not just money but time, effort and support every step of the way and as a newcomer to the HLF it was fantastic to hear of the huge impact my new colleagues have had.

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Sarah Golding, associate artistic director.

Sarah Golding, associate artistic director, spoke of the day of the fire, how staff and artists congregated in a wine bar across the road, devastated, they came together in shocked communion. It was then that Sarah saw across the bar Alice Kershaw, their HLF grants officer, who had come to them as soon as she had hear the news of the fire to see how she could help, to see what she could do. On seeing her, Sarah had her first thoughts that things would be alright. She knew they would get through it and rebuild. It is this compassion and care that makes me proud to be part of the HLF.

Speeches over, we were given tours of the building, new and old sits side by side and there is a real sense of how remarkable this building is. From the bee floor mosaics in the entrance hall, to the atmospheric corridors, the walls, left with the years of previous life on show, the scraps and scrapes of paint, the echoes of other times and stories that have seeped into the walls.

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Sensing lives and moments in time.
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The ‘Momentorium’ an installation of memories

In the open courtyard in the very heart of the building we come to the ‘Momentorium’ an installation of jam jars and water and precious moments in time. Standing there, tired from a long day, slightly chilled in the night air, looking up at the sky, the brickwork, the windows alight in the night, it is hard to describe but you could really feel the building. It hums, it reverberates and echoes with all the people who have come here, to work, to play, to create, to be radical and make change. There are 125 years of lives woven into the brickwork, the fire hasn’t changed that, it hasn’t take it away, the scars are here but the healing and new skin of the refurbished Grand Hall sits alongside it.

Invited to give my own moment to the ‘Momentorium’  I think of all the precious times in my life and I struggle with indecision how to pick one over another. Then I decide. I pick this moment right here and now.

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Just a little slice of cake.

If you have followed my blog you will know there are very few times I speak of where my head and heart is at, and some times have been hard. But right now in this moment I couldn’t be happier. We are so often looking to the next thing, wanting time to pass, thinking ahead, rarely stopping to think of the moment we are in. This building has had a strange effect on me, I feel this moment so strongly. A hard seat, a heavy bag, a sip of bubbles, a slice of cake, a hand trailing on a stairwell, the smell of plaster and paint, a broken Christmas decoration, the sound of laughter, fairy lights that blind me in the dark. I feel it all in this space.

I am learning and loving this new life I have carved and created for myself with the help of so many people along the way. I have met so many new faces, I have heard wonderful stories of lives changed. Volunteers whose eyes light up when they talk of their projects, curators who tease stories from the past they they can’t wait to share with you, conservators who spend hours and hours with objects and can tell you their hidden secrets. Meeting people like David Jubb and all those at the BAC who have worked so hard for so long to make this building live again.

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The BAC’s beating heart.

But even when you hold a moment clearly in your head there comes the time to pass it by. As we finish our tour and head to the promise of birthday cake we have one more surprise. If you know where to look and you are feeling brave you will find the warm beating heart of the BAC. You just have to touch it, place your hand on it and feel it to be a part of this building.

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Hope from so many has lead to this moment.

The BAC’s motto is ‘Not for me, not for you, but for us’ and I couldn’t think of anything more apt. I think why I want you to visit is not because of the HLF funding, amazing as that is. I think it is because when you nearly lose something precious, for whatever reason, if it comes back to you, if it is rescued, returned or saved, you hold it all the dearer. You love it all the more and you value it much more than you ever thought possible. This phoenix rising from the ashes is a gift and one we can all share in, so come to the ‘Momentorium’, perhaps you will feel the echoes of my precious moment as I felt the moments of all those that came before me.

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There are three blogs that I feel really mark the last 6 years of volunteering and blogging,  this is my third. You can read the other two here –

2015 – What volunteering has taught me – https://tinctureofmuseum.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/what-volunteering-has-taught-me/

2014 – Volunteering and me – https://tinctureofmuseum.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/volunteering-and-me/

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To find out more about Battersea Arts Centre please visit the website – https://www.bac.org.uk/

Good article here too – ‘Like something from Pompeii’ Battersea Arts Centre’s scorching resurrection. Sept 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/sep/06/like-something-from-pompeii-battersea-arts-centre-scorching-resurrection

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