Phoenix from the flames


It’s quite astonishing how much of your heart you can give to a place.

A memory. I’m holding hands with a stranger on a sunny afternoon in East London. We’re here as part of Walking:Holding, Rosana Cade’s generous and thoughtful walking tour through the city. As we look up at a church, its spire sharply outlined against the blue sky, this particular stranger tells me that this is where she’d like to get married. Then she turns to me. Where would I like to get married? I still don’t really know how I feel about marriage; as an idea, it feels abstract and far away. But somehow, in spite of my ambivalence, I find myself offering an answer. Battersea Arts Centre.

Perhaps it’s because part of me already feels wedded to BAC. Of all the theatres in London, it’s probably the one I spend most time at. There’s not just one thing I love about it. I love the work and the ethos and the people and the beautiful, beautiful building. I love its history as an old town hall and the way it’s built right into the community. And I love all the memories, big and small, that have seeped into its brick and stone over the years.

It’s where friends of mine have been convinced for the very first time that theatre might be something they could love. It’s where I first saw Forced Entertainment and Caroline Horton and Kate Tempest and Little Bulb. It’s the theatre in London where I’ve always felt most at home, whether visiting for a show, a cup of coffee or an evening in the bar. At times, I wanted to become an artist just so I could run away and hide in the bowels of that building for a few weeks.

Yesterday afternoon, a fire broke out at BAC. The extent of the damage still seems to be unclear, but it started in the roof of the Grand Hall, which has been destroyed. When I first saw the news on Twitter, I couldn’t quite breathe. It took about an hour of scrolling through updates, messages of support and devastating images (along with an awful lot of swearing) for it to really sink in.

I feel sure that BAC will carry on, but not alone. If the organisation means even half as much to you as it does to me, please give what you can, be it a fiver, a tenner, or simply a helping hand. Here’s a link to donate, and no doubt in the next few days it will start to become clear how all of us can pitch in to get BAC up and running again.

If there’s any scrap of a silver lining to take from this, it’s how much our theatre and arts spaces really matter, as powerfully demonstrated by the steady outpouring of love and support since yesterday afternoon. And we can continue to offer that support. BAC has captured so many of our imaginations; let’s reimagine its future together.

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