South London Theatre, Norwood
Theatre & Community Facilities housed in former fire station (at feasibility stage)
Client: The South London Theatre
Building Preservation Trust
Housed in a grade II listed Victorian fire station built by the London Board of Works in 1881 for horse-drawn appliances, the South London Theatre is a thriving amateur company with about 800 members. Decommissioned in 1916 following the introduction of larger motorised appliances, the fire station was converted into a theatre by Owen Luder in 1967. New productions are put on every 2 weeks, alternating between the 99 seat auditorium and a smaller performance studio. As a result of scarce resources and minimal maintenance the building is now in a parlous state. Severe circulation and access problems include a lack of access and facilities for people with disabilities, an inadequate entrance located at the back of the site and access to the studio theatre only via the main auditorium. We are working with trustees and members of the theatre to develop a proposal that would allow repair of the building, improve theatre spaces, and make the facilities more accessible and open to the wider community throughout the day.
One of few surviving examples of fire stations built to accommodate horse-drawn appliances, understanding of the original spaces of the building is impaired by the location of the theatre in the former appliance hall. Our proposal involves the creation of a new entrance and foyer space using the original main doors and appliance hall. A new theatre and studio flanking the foyer will be linked by backstage facilities to the rear of the site. Upper levels will be used for rehearsals, props and wardrobe facilities, with a caretaker’s flat on the top floor. A roof light to the rear of the foyer will allow daylight into the back of the former appliance hall, making the foyer interior more visible from the street and encouraging daytime community use.
The new layout will allow the original spaces of the fire station to be understood and enjoyed by both theatre users and the wider local community. Access and circulation will be improved. A permanent display explaining the history of the building will be supported by open days, performance and community events. As well as improving the theatre facilities, the completed project will allow community use during the day, secure the future of this significant early fire station building and promote a better understanding of its history. Heritage Lottery Fund stage 1 grant application to be submitted in 2012.