Woolwich Works under construction
Woolwich Works had been due to open this autumn

The charity running Woolwich’s new creative district has been given nearly £1 million in emergency funding from the government after its plans to open this year were ripped up by the coronavirus pandemic.

Woolwich Works had been due to open this autumn, providing a home for the immersive theatre company Punchdrunk, the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, dance company Protein and the Chineke! orchestra.

But the Covid-19 crisis has forced the £31m project in the Royal Arsenal, created by Greenwich Council, to delay its opening until the spring. The project has been seen as key to reviving Woolwich’s fortunes, with the council saying it will rival the South Bank as a hub for the arts.

Now the Woolwich Creative District Trust has been given £984,000 to tide it through from the government and Arts Council’s Culture Recovery Fund – one of the biggest grants to be handed out nationally, and the second biggest in London behind the £1 million offered to the Wigmore Hall Trust in Marylebone. Nearly 2,000 organisations across England have been given money, with over 600 of them in London.

Valerie Vaughan-Dick, the trust’s chair, said the trust had “worked tirelessly to not only navigate the immediate impact of these exceptional circumstances upon our plans, but to increase our ambitions to make the greatest possible contribution to the recovery of both our community and the wider cultural sector in the aftermath of this unprecedented crisis”.

“The funding that we have received will not only safeguard the trust’s future as we continue to adapt to working in a post-Covid world, but also enable us to build an organisation and venue that are equipped to take a leading role in enabling live performance to thrive again,” she added.

“We are delighted that the Arts Council and Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have chosen to place such a strong vote of confidence in the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s visionary plans for Woolwich Works and our belief in the power of using culture and creativity to help build a stronger and engaged community.”

Plans to open Woolwich Works are continuing, with Punchdrunk applying for a premises licence allowing it to open until midnight on Mondays to Thursdays and 1am on Fridays and Saturdays; with five nights each year opening until 3am. Woolwich Works itself is applying to be allowed to open until 1am each night. (See licensing register)

Earlier this year, Greenwich Council’s assistant chief executive Katrina Delaney said Woolwich Works had changed its business plan to turn it “into an organisation that would programme its own performances, rather than one hired out by other organisations”.

“We have massive spaces, so social distancing will be possible in the spaces that we have there. The trust is working with us in how to turn the current uncertain period into a bit of an opportunity,” she said.

Other organisations getting funding in this round include Greenwich Dance (£182,920), Blackheath Halls (£76,043) and Eltham Little Theatre – better known to locals as the Bob Hope Theatre (£53,833).

Grants given in the last round went to Greenwich Theatre (£245,000), Blackheath Conservatoire (£228,000), Emergency Exit Arts (£110,998), Greenwich and Docklands Festivals (£55,000), Up the Creek comedy club (£165,000). Greenwich-based MDM Props, based at Morden Wharf, got £247,784.

Selladoor, which runs regional theatres across the UK but is based in Deptford, got £755,084. A deal for it to take over the Borough Hall in Greenwich recently collapsed.

Just across the borough boundary in Lewisham, the Deptford bar Buster Mantis, which has gained an international reputation for its jazz nights, got £80,000. The Albany got £248,468, The New Cross Inn received £225,000, while Deptford’s Matchstick Theatre – which recently created a show based on the N89 night bus – got £80,493. In Bromley, HQ Theatres, which runs the Churchill Theatre, has been given £435,586. (See full details of all grants.)

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