Woolwich as a major cultural destination

Woolwich is embarking on a new chapter as the capital's next landmark cultural destination.

In October 2018, the Royal Borough of Greenwich's ambitious plans to create a destination for the arts in Woolwich's Royal Arsenal moved another step closer, when planning permission was granted for the first phase of a multi-million pound restoration of historic military buildings, to create a 15,000sqm complex of theatres, dance studios and places to eat.

Punchdrunk* the world-renowned theatre company, is just one of the big name tenants that is poised to make the Woolwich Creative District its home - when the new landmark destination for the arts opens in 2020.

Punchdrunk will join a number of local, national and internationally acclaimed artists as a resident company, including Europe's first majority black and minority ethnic orchestra Chineke! Orchestra, Woolwich-based Protein Dance and the Woolwich Print Fair.

A landmark £31.59 million investment in arts and culture was approved by the Royal Borough of Greenwich in March 2017 to fund the project.

*Punchdrunk will make Woolwich its new home, taking over three buildings on site – the residency is currently subject to ‘call in’ process before the final lease agreement will be signed.

Spaces for culture and businesses

The creative hub will include large-scale concert venues, rehearsal and studio spaces, offices, places to eat, and a base for internationally acclaimed theatre companies such as Punchdrunk. The flexible space will provide opportunities for public interaction and involvement, training and education, as well as being available for hire for weddings, parties, conferences, community meetings or events.

The new developments include:

  • a venue with excellent acoustics that can house an audience of 1200 seated or 1800 standing
  • an open-sided quadrangle courtyard for performance seating up to 600
  • ten rehearsal studios, which can also be used as informal performance spaces
  • artists' studios and offices for resident companies
  • a black box theatre seating up to 450
  • a generous public facilities, including a cafe / bar and space for hire for community group and events.

A diverse range of tenants will be ensured by hiring 70 per cent of space to cultural organisations and local community groups at subsidised levels, and the remaining 30 per cent to commercial operators;looking for rehearsal venues, conference facilities and event space.

The site on the River Thames has long been identified as a key driver for the local economy and will provide a new foundation in the continued revival of Woolwich and the surrounding area.

It's anticipated that the new Creative District will provide more than 400 local jobs in addition to new roles during construction.

The district will have a significant economic impact on Woolwich and the surrounding areas and bring benefits to the whole borough, much as the Arsenal did when it was operational.

It will help to reinforce the changing perceptions of Woolwich as a destination and increase the benefits of Crossrail. It will also support the economic and social development of Woolwich and its surrounding communities, particularly those of Plumstead, Abbey Wood and Thamesmead.

Artist's impression of new Britannia Leisure Centre

Using Royal Arsenal listed buildings

The major investment will bring a series of landmark historic buildings back into use to form the Creative District. Bennetts Associates have been appointed to carry out the plan to transform five buildings, including:

  • a former cartridge factory (Building 17)
  • an old ammunitions factory (Building 41)
  • a laboratory (Building 18)
  • a carriage mounting shop (Building 19)
  • the Royal Military Academy (Building 40).

The Grade II and Grade II* listed buildings boast historic, architecturally impressive features and expansive square footage, plus unparalleled acoustics found in the old ammunitions factory (Building 41). This will be renovated into a large scale performance venue with capacity for up to 1200 people.

Work on the Creative District is planned across two phases. The first featuring temporary theatres and repair work to three of the historic buildings, to accommodate Punchdrunk, and permanent works to the two remaining buildings. A further phase will complete the long-term upgrade for a permanent performing arts tenant and, for building 18, a future return to the Royal Arsenal for the Greenwich Heritage Trust.

Artist's impression of new Britannia Leisure Centre

Design and construction timeline

Plans for phase 1 of the Creative District received final approval in October 2018.

Works by Mace, the contractor,have commenced. It will be a phased development, so the opening of the buildings will be staggered. Phase 1 work will be completed during 2020.

Impact on local residents should be minimal as much of the work is internal. Due to the heights of the buildings cranes should not be required.

The works to the buildings will include sensitively restored roofs and windows to ensure adequate soundproofing. The buildings are already well soundproofed and changes are being made to further improve them to minimise crowd noise for any larger events.

Woolwich Creative District Trust

The Creative District will be managed by an independent trust once work is completed. It will be chaired by Valerie Vaughan-Dick, currently Chief Operating Officer, at the Royal College of General Practitioners. Valerie has had a successful career with roles at a senior level in the public, private and voluntary sectors over 30 years.

Frequently asked questions

  • The Royal Borough of Greenwich is creating an ambitious, landmark global and local destination for the arts in Woolwich due to open in 2020.

    The first phase of the Council’s multi-million pound restoration of five historic military buildings in the Woolwich Arsenal will create a 15,000m² heritage centre offering music, theatre, dance, exhibitions, food and drink that will attract national and international audiences.

    Through the adaptive reuse of four Grade II and one Grade II* listed buildings the Creative District will become home to a number of local, national and internationally acclaimed companies such as ground breaking theatre company Punchdrunk*, Chineke! Orchestra, Europe’s first majority black and minority ethnic orchestra, Woolwich-based Protein Dance, and the Woolwich Print Fair.

    *Punchdrunk will make Woolwich its new home, taking over three buildings on site – the residency is currently subject to the council’s ‘call in’ process before the final lease agreement can be signed.

    • A former cartridge factory (Building 17)
    • An old ammunitions factory (Building 41)
    • A laboratory (Building 18)
    • A carriage mounting shop (Building 19)
    • The Royal Military Academy (Building 40).

  • The vision to create a world class cultural destination is balanced with tangible community benefits. The district will have a significant economic impact on Woolwich and the surrounding areas and bring benefits to the whole borough, much as the Arsenal did when it was operational. This includes an estimated 400 new jobs worth £8.1 million, tourists and inward investment.

    The development will help to reinforce the changing perceptions of Woolwich as a destination and mean that the benefit of Crossrail is more than providing a route into Central London, but is a means for people to use Crossrail to come to Woolwich.

    It will support the economic and social development of Woolwich and its surrounding communities, particularly those of Plumstead, Abbey Wood and Thamesmead.

    The creative sector is on average 25% more productive than the London economy as a whole – Woolwich and its surrounding communities can benefit from this demand and growth through the creation of a significant number of new and varied apprenticeships, jobs and work experience opportunities.

  • Punchdrunk is a ground-breaking theatre company that has been creating boundary pushing theatre for almost twenty years and is globally renowned for productions such as Sleep No More (running in New York since 2011 and Shanghai since 2016) and The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable (London).

    Punchdrunk is poised to make Woolwich its new home later this year subject to final Council approval. It will take over three buildings on site: B17, B18 and B19.

  • Punchdrunk has been touring schools throughout the borough with The Lost Lending Library. Punchdrunk’s community enrichment projects, such as The Lost Lending Library, create imaginative work with the same commitment to design and performance, target-15083-10ed at schools and communities. Created with and for children, young people and participants, the ethos of this work aligns with Royal Borough of Greenwich’s commitment to placing the local community at the heart of Woolwich Creative District.

  • The Council has agreed a budget of £31.59 million.

  • Of course there are lots of demands on the Council’s budget but the Council has made important decisions to ensure long-term financial stability (as part of its Medium Term Financial Strategy). Councils also have a key role in supporting efforts to regenerate priority areas and this will bring jobs and spending into our town centre.

  • Following a series of successful planning applications during 2018 work has commenced on site. It will be a phased development, so the opening of the buildings will be staggered. The first buildings will open in 2020.

  • The Council’s appointed contractor Mace has begun works on site. Impact on local residents should be minimal. Much of the work is internal. Due to the heights of the buildings cranes should not be required.

  • There will be a mix of arts uses – from dance, music, theatre and visual arts. The spaces will be very flexible so there could be pop-up exhibitions or markets, performance space and rehearsal studios. Seventy per cent of space will be available for hire by the community and cultural groups at subsidised levels while the remaining 30 per cent will be available to hire by commercial operators.

  • The Creative District will become home to a number of local, national and internationally acclaimed companies such as ground breaking theatre company Punchdrunk (subject to final Council approval*) Chineke! Orchestra, Europe’s first majority black and minority ethnic orchestra, Woolwich-based Protein Dance, and the Woolwich Print Fair.

    We hope to make further announcements shortly.

  • The vision is that there will be something going on every day for people to enjoy. This might be the opportunity to see a rehearsal, a performance, take part in a class or visit an exhibition. A licensing application which will determine opening hours will be submitted in due course.

  • The works to the buildings will include improved roof spaces and windows, to ensure adequate soundproofing. The buildings are already well soundproofed and changes are being made to further improve them to minimise crowd noise.

  • A Trust is being set up with responsibility for the overall management of the site. They will ensure events are programmed so visitor numbers are manageable and that any licensing or planning conditions are met. The Trust will also work with Berkeley Homes, who manage the whole site and the public realm areas, to ensure a co-ordinated approach with signage and designated access routes to Crossrail and other transport hubs. The Trust and Berkeley Homes will ensure local residents are consulted and informed about activities and events.

  • The Trust has appointed by Dr Valerie Vaughan-Dick as its chair. Chief Operating Officer at the Royal College of General Practitioners, Valerie has had a successful career with multiple roles at a senior level in the public, private and voluntary sectors over 30 years.

    Trustees, from the local area, are currently being recruited for the board. Further appointments to be announced.

  • Apart from opening up these beautiful historic buildings for people to see and enjoy, it will mean the opportunity to access performances and rehearsals. There will be incredible spaces available to hire, for weddings, parties, conferences or just community meetings or events. There will be new jobs created, and tenants will be required to provide apprenticeships and training opportunities, particularly for our young people. There will be school engagement programmes and also community projects.

    A number of buildings have been vacant with no secured future use for many years, but the new creative activities will bring back into use these valued heritage buildings, preserving the military and industrial heritage of the area and giving the public access to historic buildings in a way that conversion into further housing could not.

    The District will hopefully attract other businesses and shops into the town centre, bringing wider benefits to Woolwich and the surrounding area.

  • The Royal Arsenal is among England’s most important historic sites, having played a central military and industrial role in its imperial past from the late 17th to the early 20th century. Historic England has welcomed the Council’s plans to redevelop the listed buildings, with little intervention to their fabric, that will secure their long-term future, and facilitate the removal of the conservation area and buildings from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register.

  • While the work takes place, the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust (RGHT) is moving its museum and archive to a newly fitted out temporary location, Anchorage Point in Charlton, that meets National Archive standards. RGHT is also considering an interim outreach programme as well as how to widen the reach and appeal of its rich material if it chooses to return to the Woolwich Creative District in the future.