SOUTH LONDON THEATRE Building Preservation Trust (SLT BPT) has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to restore its home in West Norwood’s Old Fire Station.
A development grant of £157,800 has been awarded to help the SLT BPT progress its plans to apply for a full grant of £1.5million for the project at a later date.
The project aims to rescue the Grade II listed building from the ‘at risk’ register and place it at the heart of the community that it was originally built to serve. It will:
* Restore the fire station and open its main front doors
* Install a lift and improve access for people with disabilities
* Open up the building for use by the local community in the daytime
* Provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the history of the fire station and the local area
Built in 1881, West Norwood’s Old Fire Station is one of very few Victorian stations still surviving. It was designed for horse-drawn fire appliances, but when bigger motorised fire engines were introduced after the First World War the building became redundant.
During the 20th century it was used as a church hall and occasional illegal bare-knuckle boxing venue, before falling into disuse. In 1967 it was taken over by the fledgling South London Theatre and converted into a performance venue.
Since then the South London Theatre has grown into one of the busiest community theatres in the country, staging over 22 shows each year with over 400 adult and 100 youth members.
But for the last few years the South London Theatre has survived under constant threat of closure as a leaking roof, crumbling ceilings and deteriorating gutters and windows in the old fire station have made it ever harder to maintain the insurance needed to keep the building open.
Passers-by often assume the building is derelict, and with poor access and steep narrow stairs it has been impossible to open the building to the public in the daytimes, and for safety reasons the theatre has been required to operate as a members’ club.
The new support from the Heritage Lottery Fund offers the chance to change all that. The building will be fully restored and the front doors opened to the street, making the building once again a vibrant presence in the town centre of West Norwood.
There will be a lift connecting all levels of the building and allowing people with disabilities to take a full and active role in both the theatre and other activities in the building.
During the daytime the Old Fire Station will be open to the public and for use by community groups.
There will be dedicated exhibition space and information throughout the building to help visitors learn about the Victorian Fire Service and its role in local society, as well as the more recent history of the building and its occupants.
In the evenings the building will continue to be home to the South London Theatre, offering more rehearsal space, a social centre in the theatre’s basement bar and the same number of exciting community shows in a newly-fitted, flexible performance space.
At weekends the SLT Youth Theatre will continue to teach classes and produce shows with youngsters. Throughout the project and afterwards there will be many opportunities for volunteers to learn new skills and take part in both the restoration of the building and the interpretation and presentation of its history.
Bob Callender who is leading the project for the South London Theatre Building Preservation Trust said: “I am so excited that we have the support of the HLF. “The South London Theatre is a unique and amazing institution, and this news means it can continue to thrive and grow, and welcome even more people to enjoy its historic fire station home.”
Sue Bowers, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund for London said: “We’re extremely pleased to give initial support to this project. The building is of significant heritage importance as well as being a much loved community venue. “We shall watch the developing plans with interest.”
Billy Reading, of English Heritage said: “The building is in severely poor condition, hence its inclusion on English Heritage’s Heritage ‘at risk’ register. “The building, which has been disused as a fire station since its replacement in the early C20th, retains a wealth of character which is a rarity for this building type, as they have usually lost most interior features. “This rarity increases the national importance of the building.”
Cllr Lib Peck, leader of Lambeth council said: “This new funding will help secure the future of the historic fire station as a centre for arts and culture in Lambeth. “I am really looking forward to the development of the building to open it up to the community so that more people will be able to enjoy this brilliant theatre and exhibition space.”
Paul Sharrock of project architects Thomas Ford & Partners said: “We are delighted to be part of this project. Once restored, “The Old Fire Station will be a landmark building not just for West Norwood, but for all of London.”
(Source: South London Theatre press release)