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Ovalhouse wins planning permission for new Brixton home

Pierce Brosnan in The Matador

LAST night (December 16, 2015), Lambeth Council voted unanimously to grant planning permission for the legendary London arts centre Ovalhouse to move to a purpose built new home in the heart of Brixton.

This follows the announcement in September of former 007, Pierce Brosnan’s support of a fundraising campaign to make such a move possible and is seen as a major step towards his ambition.

Ovalhouse has sat opposite The Oval Cricket Ground for the past fifty years and has been the home to experimental, radical and overlooked artists seeking to make theatre and performance that speaks to a world beyond the mainstream.

Since 2012, the organisation has been working with Lambeth Council when the council undertook a public consultation for a new development on the corner of Somerleyton Road and Coldharbour Lane. As well as almost 300 homes, community and health facilities, a shop, social enterprise and training opportunities for young people, Somerleyton Road project will include a theatre and cultural facility that will house the new Ovalhouse.

It has been recognised for some time that Ovalhouse’s Kennington Oval site has become too small for the current operation and the venue’s ambitions, and the new home is planned for completion in 2018. It will offer two theatre spaces plus seven multi-use accessible studios – for rehearsal, participatory work and community activities – and will comprise a significant suite of cultural workspace, bringing jobs and opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises and supporting the already strong cultural sector in Brixton.

The flexible theatre spaces will have the facilities needed for artists to make innovative new work and there will also be an increased range of training within the youth leadership programmes, ensuring professional opportunities and cross-transferable skills for local young people. The needs of vulnerable young people will be met in terms of access, safe spaces and purpose-built space, while the building will generate an income stream that will make Ovalhouse resilient and safer from financial shock.

Ovalhouse has a long history of engaging with its local community and responding to it. Brixton is, of course, culturally, ethnically and economically diverse and as such offers the venue the opportunity to continue this dialogue with a whole new audience at the same time as continuing the long established links with its existing neigbourhood

A major fundraising campaign is also underway in order to bring the move to fruition and a decision on Arts Council England support is due in January 2016. The funds are needed to supplement the value of the current site, which will be invested in the new building and the campaign will be driven through a series of fundraising events, individual and corporate donations all fronted by Pierce Brosnan.

As well as playing 007 from 1995 to 2002, Brosnan is also known for his leading roles in feature films such as The Matador, The Thomas Crown Affair, Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer and the award-winning film version of the musical Mamma Mia!. However, he gained his first acting experience at Ovalhouse when, at the age of 16 in the early 1970s, he was invited to the venue by a friend. Soon afterwards he quit his job as a graphic designer to become part of The Ovalhouse Theatre Company and so began his career as an actor.

Commenting on the planning permission, Pierce Brosnan said:

“This is great news! Ovalhouse gave me my first experience in the arts and in so doing it changed my life. The fact that planning permission has been granted for a new venue in the heart of Brixton means that it will continue to offer such opportunities to today’s young people. This will enable Ovalhouse to continue to operate as the dynamic and thriving organisation it has always been – a vital asset to it’s local community, to the wider London public and to the creative world as a whole.”

Ovalhouse Patron and Brixton Resident, the theatre director Paulette Randall said:

“I am doubly thrilled about the prospect of Ovalhouse relocating to Brixton. It’s always been a vibrant, exciting and invaluable centre for the arts which really engages with its local and artistic communities. It’s also an organisation with whom I have had a personal and professional relationship for the past thirty years. The thought of having that on my own doorstep is brilliant. It’s like having your best friend and favourite colleague move in next door. This is fantastic news!”

And Deborah Bestwick, Director of Ovalhouse, said:

“We are delighted with this decision which is an important step towards building a bold new contemporary theatre in a town centre that used to have no less than seven theatres! Facilities for the artists of the 21st Century, a venue for the audiences of Brixton and beyond and a place where young people can take their place amongst the artists of the future. The work we have done so far with the architects is like building a script – looking at a rough draft, testing it in consultation – now we are ready to start the process of making it real. Exciting times!”