Greenwich’s latest attempt to be declared London’s borough of culture has been branded “absurd” by Greenwich Dance, which announced its closure last month after losing its council funding.

The council hopes it will be lucky at the third attempt at winning the accolade – which brings in £1.35m in City Hall funding – after losing out in 2017 and 2020. Lewisham was last year’s borough of culture.

But the bid comes as Greenwich Dance, which had been funded by the council since it opened 30 years ago, prepares to close after losing both its local and national funding.

Historians have already criticised the borough of culture bid after the council asked residents to submit their family stories – five years after the local heritage centre where people could research their family histories closed so the £45m Woolwich Works arts hub could be built. A petition to reopen the archive now has over 1,300 signatures

Greenwich Dance also criticised a statement given by the council to this website last month, in which the town hall said the closure would come as a “great blow”.

The organisation lost its Arts Council funding in 2017, and in January was turned down for a new round of Greenwich Council funding – just a few months after the leader of the council at the time, Danny Thorpe, had welcomed its move to new premises in Thamesmead.

Greenwich Heritage Centre
Historians angry about the loss of the Greenwich Heritage Centre have also criticised the culture bid. Credit: The Greenwich Wire

In a blog post published last week, Greenwich Dance said its plans to close had come “as a devastating blow to those who have come to rely upon us”.

It added: “Perplexed reactions from organisations within the sector and from members of the public have also pointed to the absurdity of the council applying for London borough of culture whilst letting its cultural assets such as Greenwich Dance disappear.

“As a project funded organisation which was removed from Arts Council England’s national portfolio back in 2017, Greenwich Council have always been well aware of the fragility with which we have been operating and the crucial part they play in our ongoing existence.”

The group criticised a statement that the council made to The Greenwich Wire last month, saying that its closure came as a “great blow”- pointing the finger at the town hall instead. It said that while 35 per cent of its funding came from a council voluntary sector grant, that gave it a “gold stamp” which enabled it to access other money.

“Their decision to take away that funding in January sent us immediately into a critical state with so little time with which to be able to restabilise,” it said.

The Nest and Cygnet Square
Greenwich Dance moved into The Nest in Thamesmead last year. Credit: The Greenwich Wire

“So Greenwich Council’s statement that our news ‘came as a great blow’ feels devoid of any responsibility. We are also conscious that it is misleading in that it implies that they stepped in to help ‘when it became clear that the organisation was in trouble’, which is not the case.”

Greenwich Dance said that emails to the council leader, Anthony Okereke, and cabinet member for culture, Adel Khaireh, went unanswered, and while eventually a consultant came in to provide eight hours of help, “every ‘option’ discussed involved closure”.

A final request for an £80,000 bailout, which involved senior staff reducing their hours to just a week, was rejected, it said.

Greenwich Dance had been based at the Borough Hall, in west Greenwich, for many years, but was asked to leave by the council in 2017. After a spell at Charlton House the group had moved to a new base at The Nest in Thamesmead, just outside the borough, last year, with plans to expand its work into Bexley.

Borough Hall
The Borough Hall has been unused since Greenwich Dance moved out in 2018. Credit: The Greenwich Wire

A Greenwich Council spokesperson denied any involvement in the closure of the  organisation.

She said: “The closure of Greenwich Dance comes as a great blow to the communities and individuals it has served within the Royal Borough of Greenwich. The decision to close Greenwich Dance was taken by their board and their board alone. 

 “The council met Greenwich Dance to discuss their situation and provided advice and support about how they could develop options that would enable them to remain open, but ultimately the board has made the difficult decision to close.

“We spend more per capita on culture compared to most London councils. This is happening at the same time as 13 years of cuts to the council’s own core funding, which are making its own finances challenging.”

Carlos Acosta and Javier Torres
Carlos Acosta and Javier Torres recently opened the Carlos Acosta Dance Centre in Woolwich. Credit: Javier Rojas/Carlos Acosta Dance Foundation

The spokeswoman added: “Greenwich Dance had successfully applied for voluntary and community services  funding from the council over many years. The current round of funding came to an end in March 2023 as planned. Unfortunately, the organisation was unsuccessful in applying for the next four-year programme but Protein Dance, another local dance organisation was successful and the borough is the proud home to the Acosta Dance Foundation.

“The council is going for London borough of culture due to the inward investment that a successful bid could bring to the borough and to local cultural organisations. This is a sign of the council’s ongoing commitment to the sector.

“We understand this is an unfortunate situation and it’s sad that Greenwich Dance has decided to close down but we recognise the contribution that the organisation has made to the borough over the last 30 years.”

• The Greenwich Historical Society, one of the groups which has raised concerns about the loss of the archive, is holding a “lantern lecture” discussing the history of the borough’s historical collections at the Trafalgar Tavern at 7.30pm on Thursday November 22. Admission is free for members and £3 for non-members.