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Productions on topics from cocaine to mental health - Streatham Space Project, the fearless cultural community hub

In its first year Streatham Space Projects (SSP) has been busy  establishing itself as a true cultural community hub hosting a screening with David Harewood for his documentary ‘Psychosis & Me’, Q&A’s with Jim Carter, Imelda Staunton and Streatham-based Jamael Westman (Hamilton from award winning musical Hamilton) as well as providing free or subsidised support and space for local organisations. Its theatre programme has explored subjects including London’s cocaine trade and its impact (Stardust), love and loss (Some Small Love Story), the African diaspora (Dem Times) as well as its current production about race and mental health (Freeman). Musically it has featured secret shows by Brit Award nominated Kate Tempest, local artists Ferris & Sylvester, MOBO-nominated jazz vocalist Julia Biel and UK’s leading multi-racial opera company (Pegasus Opera). And its comedy has seen big names including Alan Carr, Dara O’Brien, Nish Kumar, Angela Barnes and Marcus Brigstocke whilst also providing a platform for up and coming and local performers. South London family audiences have seen shows in support of refugees (The Flying Seagull Project), the environment (One Duck Down) and specially curated film screenings.

The story starts in 2016 when a group of young creatives, including SSP Creative Director Andy McKeane, won a bid to become operators of a section 106-funded theatre building. “We wanted to create something that was rooted in our neighbourhood whilst bringing world class culture back to an area that was once known as 'the West End of South London'” McKeane says of the early conception, adding “When we won the bid to run it, it was set up as a theatre. But it soon became clear to us that it had to do a lot more things to fulfil the needs of our neighbourhood. This year has been about experimenting and listening, then seeing what works for our area”. It was on June 7th 2018 that Streatham Space Project opened 'proper' with £100,000 worth of theatre equipment and a 25 year rent-free lease supplied by the developer – to go with the furniture and fittings hand-built, designed and made by the creative team.

Since then, in its first year, SSP has been daring and original in its approach to being a community cultural hub. The theatre programme’s maiden show was Stardust, developed by Colombian artist Miguel Torres Umba. The provocative one-man show looked at the links between cocaine use in London and the impact it has on South American countries, using hand-drawn projected animations to get its message across. Some Small Love Story was an intimate look at four characters telling their stories of love and loss, whilst radio play Dem Times, about a British-Ghanaian boy sent to school in Ghana, was performed for a live podcast recording. And almost one year on from opening, Freeman - a beautifully made and timely look at the link between racism, the justice system and mental health in what The Guardian called "a piece of stunning physical theatre".  

Kate Tempest, prior to recording new material with Streatham-based producer Dan Carey, performed two secret gigs to trial it at SSP in September, and jazz singer Julia Biel hosted a sell-out show to celebrate her album release in June, prior to supporting Bob Dylan this year in Berlin. Pegasus Opera, as part of Streatham Festival, saw top class professional black British classical singers on stage for a night of music spanning Opera, musical theatre and African song. Local band Ferris & Sylvester performed before going on to tour nationally and internationally (including at SXSW festival) whilst SSP platformed young musicians from south London with sold out Southsounds events, and developed Tracks on Tap with local young producers, bringing young musicians from Instagram to the stage.

In July 2018, SSP set up the inaugural South London Comedy Festival, with comedy heavyweights including Nish Kumar, Angela Barnes and Marcus Brigstocke. Featured charitable collaborations including an Alan Carr-lead fundraiser for the Anthony Nolan Trust (a charity that sources vital donors for blood cancer sufferers) and a Dara O’Brien-lead lineup in support of #TeamMonk, another cancer fundraiser. Regular comedy events also featured names including Dane Baptiste, Kae Kurd, Slim, Abandoman and Mark Dolan.

At Christmas environmental family show One Duck Down entertained audiences with its music, clowning, and puppetry based on the true story of thousands of rubber ducks released into the ocean following a container ship accident. The Flying Seagull Project, who go into into refugee camps to entertain children, presented their first theatrical piece at SSP (now transferring to Leicester Square Theatre) South London families.

But what is inspiring about an organisatiion like this spave is that whilst managing to draw in some of the biggest names in British entertainment, SSP has never lost sight of its focus and mission to create positive change in the local community - collaborating on events with  Alt (an organisation that provides free training to actors from low-income backgrounds) and providing subsidised hire for organisations like Polska Szkoła Muzyczna w Londynie (which teaches traditional music to the local polish community) among others.

In the bar and café, the work of emerging visual artists such as Streatham-born Tyrone Deans, Canadian-Korean Artist KV Duong, Katie-Jane Spencer’s portraits of south London musicians and Hedy Parry-Davies’ works inspired by the architecture of Beacon Bingo on Streatham High Road (formerly Streatham Hill Theatre) have featured on the walls.

Setting out with the aim of bringing people from all corners of Streatham and south London into the venue, Andy McKeane and the team have brought together one of the most varied and vibrant line-ups in the capital and become a true cultural community hub in the South London. “We’ve had a great year - and learnt a lot about what works for our neighbourhood, how to reach people that wouldn’t come to a traditional arts centre or theatre necessarily. Now it’s about looking at what’s worked well and taking it to the next level” .

Jayson Mansaray is Trustee at Streatham Space Project

Streatham Space Project

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