Shoreditch Town Hall reopens with plans for live entertainment this autumn

Jo Fong in the Assembly Hall at Shoreditch Town Hall

Jo Fong in the Assembly Hall at Shoreditch Town Hall - Credit: Archant

A backlog of weddings, free desk space for isolated artists, and a youth board to help steer the not for profit arts centre are also part of reopening plans

Shoreditch Town Hall. Picture: David Holt/Flickr/Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Shoreditch Town Hall. Picture: David Holt/Flickr/Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 2.0 - Credit: Archant

It’s been “a crazy few months” for James Pidgeon, director of Shoreditch Town Hall.

“It feels a bit like a blurry nightmare that is sort of continuing. I’ve been running on adrenaline, fire fighting from day to day since March.”

The not-for-profit arts venue has now thrown open its doors after 24 weeks closure and is making plans for live entertainment this autumn.

“We’ve been overwhelmed with wedding requests,” he adds.

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This Egg Residency - Credit: Archant

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“There’s been a huge backlog of weddings over lockdown. As to when product launches and parties will return, I don’t know, but requests to film are trickling in.”

With eight main spaces of varying sizes, the Grade II listed Town Hall earns all its own income from staging innovative theatre, music, dance, circus and talks, to event hires and filming for the likes of The Death of Stalin, Florence Foster Jenkins and The Lady in the Van.

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Pidgeon says the lack of public subsidy is not an oversight: “We’ve never applied for it because we relish our independence and want to remain flexible.”

Other income streams include bar takings, renting out rehearsal space for the Hoxton-based National Centre for Circus Arts, and rent from six local businesses including the Michelin starred Clove Club restaurant.

Shoreditch Live

Shoreditch Live - Credit: Archant

But of course the lack of people coming through the doors to watch live entertainment has hit them hard. Between 2012 and March 2020 their income had tripled to £1.2million a year.

“That will be down by 60 percent next year,” he predicts. “The pandemic has had a significant impact.”

But with good relationships with Hackney Council and other borough arts organisations, they are putting their best foot forward. Their latest initiative Made in Shoreditch offers 200 free desk space slots this month to creatives planning a tour or show and continues their commitment to artist’s development.

“We have always given lots of space every year to artists to practically develop and make work which we often then commission - around eight new pieces a year - but we realised the administrative delivery of work requires desk space and even somewhere to send your post.

“It’s meant to reduce much of the isolation and loneliness that many independent artists have been feeling during lockdown.”

They will also recruit a Youth Board of eight 16-19-year-olds who will meet five times a year to have a say in how the venue is run and programme their own work.

Pidgeon feels that young people have been “the forgotten people in the pandemic” and hopes the scheme, supported by Hackney Council’s Discover Young Hackney programme, will “integrate the voices of local people into our programme, deliver activity in the building and help them express their creativity as well as seeing the building and a career in cultural industries as being for them. It’s saying ‘engage with the building be part of its future’.”

They have also helped to develop and promote an audio trail Still, Here, by Hackney-based Access All Areas’ Black Cab Company.

By downloading a code to their phones, audiences can follow a trail across the borough exploring lockdown and post lockdown life for learning disabled adults in a series of 5-10 minute audio clips.

“It’s exciting to support a Hackney based theatre company, it’s all part of working with local partners for the benefit of local residents.”

Other plans may include coffee mornings for vulnerable local residents “just to get people back into the building and reinforce the civic function of what we do.”

“Going forward we still have significant financial challenges but what keeps me hopeful is the flexible nature of our building and organisation - even with social distancing we have a capacity of up to 200 in the assembly hall which makes things possible. We are now mapping out a programme from October onwards with short lead times so we can be reactive to the changing situation. So many of the site specific shows we do - promenades around the building - work with social distancing, so we have huge potential to start live experiences again and get things off Zoom.”

Access All Areas’ Black Cab Company’s Still, Here walking audio exhibition runs September 13 – Oct 31.

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