West End theatre boss to run Woolwich’s £31m creative district

Punchdrunk
Punchdrunk will move into the old Firepower museum site

A West End theatre boss is to become the chief executive of the trust set up to run Woolwich’s £31m “creative district” in the Royal Arsenal.

James Heaton, who will take up the role at the Woolwich Creative District Trust in August, is currently the operations director at Nimax Theatres, which runs seven venues including the Garrick, Lyric and Apollo Theatres.

He also spent seven years at the Roundhouse Trust, putting on shows such as the iTunes Festival and holding events on a beach outside the Chalk Farm venue.

Immersive theatre company Punchdrunk was recently confirmed as the lead tenant in the creative district, which is based around the former Firepower museum and Greenwich Heritage Centre buildings on Berkeley Homes’ Arsenal development.

Other tenants include include Europe’s first majority back and minority ethnic orchestra Chineke!, Woolwich-based Protein Dance and the Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair.

He said: “The council’s incredible vision for the transformation of the Royal Arsenal site presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not only for me, but more importantly for the communities of Woolwich and Greenwich, and the cultural life of London. I’m honoured to have the task of bringing people together within the walls of these beautiful buildings to create something amazing, the impact of which will be felt far beyond them. It’s my dream job.”

The trust’s chair, Valerie Vaughan-Dick said: “I’m thrilled James will be joining me to spearhead the Woolwich Creative District Trust. His experience will be invaluable as we set about establishing a cultural hub akin to London’s most established arts centres.”

Heaton’s experience at the Roundhouse – which combines being one of London’s key arts and music venues with being a community hub in Camden – indicates a possible direction for the Creative District scheme, which is due to begin operations in 2020. The Roundhouse depends heavily on volunteers for its front of house staff, while it operates a scheme helping young people get involved with the arts.

Greenwich Council sees the flagship Creative District project as key in rejuvenating Woolwich’s fortunes, which have been battered by the delays to Crossrail and the recent withdrawal of street food outfit Street Feast from the former covered market.

But there is considerable nervousness on the Labour benches about whether the Creative District will actually benefit Woolwich residents or simply provide a boost for Berkeley Homes’ redevelopment of the Arsenal, while Conservative councillors have voiced worries about the cost of the project. There are concerns on both sides of the council about the £31m outlay when services are being cut elsewhere.

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