Greenwich Dance plans to close in December after losing both its Arts Council and town hall funding – just a year after it moved to a new base in Thamesmead.
The organisation began in 1993 when its founder, Richard Blanco, suggested to Greenwich Council that the vacant Borough Hall in Royal Hill be turned into a centre for dance.
But it was hit hard when Arts Council England withdrew its long-term funding in 2017, while it left the Borough Hall the following year. At the time, Greenwich Dance said it was the organisation’s own decision, but earlier this year it said the council had asked it to leave, forcing it to “shrink to survive”.
Temporary homes in Woolwich and Charlton followed, and Greenwich Dance was successful in getting short-term grants from charities and philanthropy. But the final straw came in January when Greenwich Council turned down an application for future funding, a decision that the organisation said came as a “shock”.
Four full-time members of staff face losing their jobs, while three artists-in-residence and three consultants will also be affected. The closure will hit the wider dance community too, as the group also employs 20 performers each year while 119 artists took part in its festivals in parks this summer.
Melanie Precious, the chief executive, said: “Ever since the loss of our [Arts Council] funding in 2017 we have been consistently navigating financial challenges, but the lack of time we had to adjust to Greenwich Council’s withdrawal of funds earlier this year put the organisation into an immediate critical state.
“Add to that the context of the current political and socio-economic climate and it has simply become impossible to uphold our fundamental mission. By continually chasing project funding we risk limiting the organisation to whatever it is funded for. We believe in the transformational power of our work and if we are unable to fulfil this ambition then we cannot continue.”
Greenwich Dance had moved to The Nest in Thamesmead, a few hundred metres outside the borough boundary, last year, a move welcomed by the council leader at the time, Danny Thorpe, as well as Bexley’s leader, Teresa O’Neill.
This morning, Thorpe said on social media that Greenwich Dance’s decision to close was “such sad news”.
“They’ve made dance more accessible to children who would never experience it and taken dance into communities where it wouldn’t usually be seen.”
Thorpe said that Greenwich Dance had worked on the unsuccessful Borough of Culture bid in 2020 and that it was “extremely disappointing Mel and the team wont be contributing to this bid. A really sad loss for the borough.”
A Greenwich Council spokesperson said the news was a “great blow” and that it had offered support to the organisation.
“When it became clear that the organisation was in trouble, the council provided access to a consultant to support them to develop options to remain open, but ultimately the board has made the difficult decision to close,” she said.
“Voluntary and community sector funding for Greenwich Dance came to an end in March 2023 as planned. Unfortunately, the organisation was unsuccessful in applying for the next four-year programme.
“We are aware how hard the cultural sector has been hit by the lasting effects of the pandemic, the cost of living crisis and the levelling up agenda which has seen money diverted away from the capital. The council continues to provide support for local organisations including through our grants funding programmes BH365, the Community Arts Fund, Royal Greenwich Festivals and the VCS creativity funding workstream.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff and trustees of Greenwich Dance for their dedication and the contribution they have made to making dance accessible to everyone in our borough.”
Save for a period when it was squatted, the Borough Hall has been empty since Greenwich Dance’s departure in 2018. Plans to turn the building into a cultural hub, unveiled in 2013, eventually morphed into the proposal for Woolwich Works, which opened in 2021 but has struggled since, with the trust that runs it having been bailed out by the council twice.
Greenwich had pledged that the Borough Hall would remain an arts venue, but a plan to lease it to the Deptford-based theatre organisation Selladoor collapsed in 2020 and the building was put up for sale; however, the closed venue is still in the council’s hands.
Plans to convert next-door Meridian House – which together with the Borough Hall formed the old Greenwich Town Hall – into flats were deferred last week.