The troubled Woolwich Works venue has undergone a revamp so it can host music and comedy performances each week in its main bar, which it hopes will boost ticket sales and make it more visible to the local community.
Its café and gallery spaces have been combined to create a space for up to 220 people, which it says will put its live performances “front and centre” in a space at the front of the building.
The change in approach at Woolwich Works and the creation of the Visitors’ Book Café comes as its chief executive and creative director, James Heaton, steps down after a tumultuous four years in the role.
The venue’s opening was delayed by the pandemic and it quickly became the subject of a political row as the project, paid for by Greenwich Council, went past its publicised budget of £31 million to reach a total of £45 million.
Woolwich Works had been billed as a rival to the Southbank Centre and when it opened in September 2021 it was praised by critics. But initial ticket sales were poor, which was partly attributed to the lingering effects of Covid. Last year Greenwich Council made available £2 million in loans to help the trust which runs the venue through its financial problems. It was also told to introduce a more populist programming policy.
Venue bosses hope that turning the front-of-house areas into a venue in its own right will boost the visibility of what goes on at Woolwich Works, which has been criticised for poor promotion. Its two other performance spaces will remain in place.
Heaton said: “All arts organisations have to adapt to deal with challenges and changes to their operating environment, and in response to their audiences. The Visitors’ Book Café will be a truly brilliant little venue in a big venue, and I have no doubt that the changes we’ve designed for Woolwich Works over the past months are positive ones that will set it up to have a bright future.
“While I’m sorry that it is one that will not include a number of people who have given so much to getting us this far, I’m proud to have helped build an organisation that in each challenge has found opportunity and made difficult decisions guided by the motto it inherited: each for all, and all for each.”
Ben Howarth, the interim chair of the Woolwich Creative District Trust, said: ‘It’s no secret that Woolwich Works has had a rough ride since opening, but what’s perhaps less visible is the huge amount of work that happens behind the scenes with trustees, staff and the council continually collaborating to make it a success.
“So much has been achieved over the past few years and I’ve no doubt that these exciting changes will help advance our journey to realising the trust and council’s shared vision.”
The Visitors’ Book Café will be open from Wednesday to Sunday, with its first live performance being stand-up comedy with Lateef Lovejoy tomorrow evening.
Performances in March include singer-songwriters Olcay Bayir and Noga Ritter, Berlin jazz drummer Magro and pianist Tom Sochas, while there will also be a series of free Saturday shows throughout the month. A full programme will launch in April.
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