New writing powerhouse the Bush Theatre has secured its long-term future via a new home around the corner from the room-above-a-pub where it has been based, and launched myriad playwriting careers, for the past 38 years.

At a meeting last night (11 November 2010), Hammersmith and Fulham Council voted to grant the Bush a 125-year lease, with a nominal peppercorn rent, on the old Shepherd’s Bush Library building on Uxbridge Road beside the Shepherd’s Bush Market. The theatre will take over the building in 2011, with an aim to open its inaugural season there next autumn.

Journey from one home to another

At the new site, the theatre will expand from an 81-seat capacity studio to a 144-seater with, for the first time in its history, its own bar and cafe, rehearsal rooms as well as a playtext library, which it has already been running from the building since September 2009, following the withdrawal of the public library to the new Westfield shopping centre.

With the added pressure of a lease expiry and rent hike looming, as well as a series of programme-impairing and costly leaks and power cuts, the Bush has been searching for a new, more spacious home in the local area for several years – and has been working with the Council over the past two years to gain consent for the library’s move of ownership from current owners, the Church of England.

At its existing home, the Bush is programmed through to March, after which it will stage a shorter season of, according to artistic director Josie Rourke, a “really fun and celebratory” work looking back over “what happened with the Bush Theatre in that building over the past 38 years”. The company will then present a promenade-style, community “piece of work that takes the audience on a journey from one building to the next one”.

Funding fundamentals

Architect Steve Tompkins at Haworth Tompkins, whose recent theatre makeovers have included the Young Vic, has been appointed to undertake the library renovations, including, hopefully, the installation of a lift up the side of the building. The company is now undertaking a feasibility study to determine the exact “modest but significant” cost of the capital project and launching a fundraising appeal to pay for it. Rourke told Whatsonstage.com that they would be applying for public funds but that the project “isn’t dependent on that”.

The Bush was famously threatened with losing a major portion of its £500,000 annual grant (down to £492,000 2010/11 at the reduced levels applied to all Arts Council England’s funded organisations) after the government’s last Comprehensive Spending Review, largely due to ACE’s concern about the theatre’s long-term future within the constraints of its current home.


The old Shepherd’s Bush Library

The theatre was saved after a vigorous, high-profile campaign launched by Josie Rourke. The artistic director told Whatsonstage.com that all the planning for the move has put the theatre in a strong position to receive funding despite the cuts ahead with the slimmed-down Arts Council. And the new building itself will “really help strengthen the Bush at a time in arts funding when we could all do with a little bit extra to plug the gaps ... We will be able to increase our capacity, have our own bar and cafe, and we won’t be paying to hire rehearsal space anymore, so there are certainly savings and different revenue schemes that will be available to us that haven’t been in the past.”

The wielder of the axe to the Arts Council, Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey –who previously sat on the theatre’s board – commented: “This is brilliant news, I’m over the moon that the Bush Theatre has a new home, and most importantly that it will remain right in the heart of the local community.”

Local regeneration

Josie Rourke added: “Our current space above the pub has seen some extraordinary productions, but after 38 years it is time for the Bush to find a new home. The old library is a perfect fit for the Bush at the right time in the company’s history. This beautiful building, just around the corner, will vastly improve the Bush experience for writers, artists and for our audiences.

“The Bush is the first, and the cornerstone building of the planned regeneration of the local market, and we're excited by the opportunity to work closely with local residents and businesses to make this corner of Shepherd’s Bush a vibrant destination for the community. This move promises to open up an exciting new chapter in the Bush’s future, and I cannot wait to make this long-planned dream become reality.”