Woolwich Works
Woolwich Works is less than three months away from opening

Tickets for the first event at Woolwich’s new £31m creative hub are set to go sale next week – with its boss promising that it will be a worthy investment that will “smash everybody’s expectations”.

Woolwich Works will open its doors on Thursday 23 September – a year after it was originally planned to open.

“Next week will just be the beginning of a series of announcements that start to show how Woolwich Works is going to come to life and deliver for the borough,” James Heaton, the chief executive, told councillors on the regeneration scrutiny panel last night, announcing plans to reveal the first shows and put them on sale in the coming days.

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.

Challenged by Conservative councillor Matt Clare on what return the people of the borough would get for the £31m the council has spent on the project, Heaton said that as a non-profit organisation, there was no pressure to sell “a thousand seats for eight shows a week”.

“The council hasn’t sunk the money in that way, the money has gone into the asset – the buildings. You haven’t given me £30 million to do a bit of music and theatre, you’ve given it for buildings that you own predominantly and you still own as a council,” he said.

“The [Woolwich Works] trust does not receive ongoing revenue funding from the council, it has to wash its own face and create jobs for the community on the way.

“My personal view is that it generates a very good return if what the council wants is a vibrant arts centre that does what it has asked it do without requiring ongoing revenue funding.”

Wanting more detail on the business model, Clare said: “The people who put us in the council would be horrified if that’s all that can be provided as a return on their investment.”

Heaton responded: “I’m not here to be involved in the political debate over whether the creative district is a good investment. What you are asking me and the trust to deliver without any ongoing funding, in the most challenging circumstances imaginable, I am relatively confident we are going to succeed and prevail in doing [that], smashing everyone’s expectations for it, is good value for money for a predominantly £30 million one-off capital investment.”

While before the coronavirus crisis Woolwich Works had been looking to hire its spaces out to a “buoyant” creative sector that “collapsed overnight”, now it would start out by focusing more on local communities, Heaton said.

“It will be a much more local market than it might necessarily have been – if you speak to [council tourism agency] Visit Greenwich and their partners, the assumption is that the recovery will be local first, then nationally and gradually internationally,” he said.

“It was great to have that focus … what we’re now focused on is how do we deliver locally, how do we deliver more programming and how do we create more jobs and opportunities for local people whilst also being mindful of the fact that one of the objectives was to drive the local economy by bringing footfall from other parts of London into the borough.”

As a taster for what people can expect, Protein is putting on an “outdoor promenade experience” in Woolwich from 27 July to 1 August. En Route will begin on Woolwich Common and end in the Royal Arsenal, with ticket holders invited to join performers as they walk and dance through the streets. Tickets go on sale on Monday.

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