‘Stunning’ £31m Woolwich Works will celebrate town, boss says as opening date confirmed

Woolwich Works
Hoardings at Woolwich Works have recently been taken down

The boss of Woolwich’s £31 million cultural district has said he wants to celebrate the local community as the much-delayed arts hub finally confirmed its opening date.

Woolwich Works will open its doors on Thursday 23 September, after lengthy delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which held up building work and has wrecked the performing arts industry for well over a year.

The immersive theatre company Punchdrunk, the Chineke! orchestra, the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, the Woolwich-based dance company Protein and the Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair will all be moving into the centre in the Royal Arsenal, which will take over buildings formerly used by the borough archive and the Firepower museum.

Reflecting on a “painful” past year, James Heaton, the chief executive of the venue, said: “I’m excited that our stunning new venue will play a part in supporting artists to get back on stage, and bringing audiences back together to once again share the unique experience of live performance.”

Woolwich Works, which has been funded by Greenwich Council, is seen as key in reviving the fortunes of the district, and will open its doors a few months ahead of the arrival of Crossrail, whose test trains this week started running beneath the Arsenal.

Woolwich pier
Visitors arriving in Woolwich by boat are welcomed to somewhere else…

When visitors arrive at the Royal Arsenal by boat, they are greeted with signs welcoming them to “Royal Greenwich” while publicity hoardings around Berkeley Homes’ developments there announce the location as “Royal Borough of Greenwich, London”.

But Heaton emphasised to 853 that Woolwich Works, which is being run by an independent trust, would be celebrating the identity and heritage of the town, as well as working with the local community, schools and colleges.

Berkeley Homes hoarding
…while Berkeley Homes has also downplayed the Royal Arsenal’s location

“Woolwich Works is very proud of its location, community, and name,” he said.

“We are already sharing stories of Woolwich’s history. When we open we will be celebrating both the history and our local communities, with storytelling and programming. You will also see our wonderful name proudly displayed outside, with the names of our buildings reflecting their rich past.

“Our ambition is that Woolwich Works will become somewhere of national significance for local benefit – and that our community will be proud that people come from far and wide to visit a place that belongs to them.”

As a taster for what locals can expect, Protein Dance has been commissioned for a performance on the streets of Woolwich, En Route, from 26 July, which use “a mix of dance, live music and storytelling … connecting performers with local participants after an extensive period of isolation ”.

Woolwich Works
One of the new studio spaces at Woolwich Works

Woolwich Works will include a performance venue for up to 1,800 people; an outside courtyard for performances; five studios for rehearsals and performance; a cafe, bar and space for community groups as well as spaces to hire for events, conferences and weddings.

Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe said: “Woolwich is the civic and cultural centre of the borough, and now it will be an arts destination for people from across London, England and beyond.

“People have long said that London is shifting east, and to be opening Woolwich Works in our part of the city is further proof of that. I passionately believe that the arts and culture should be accessible for people from all walks of life, and I’m really pleased that our residents, community groups and schools will be able to make the most of such brilliant opportunities.”

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