Iceni Projects would like to wish you a Merry Christmas (yes, it is Christmas!)

23 Dec 20

The pandemic has opened up a whole range of debates about how we live in the future and part of that discussion needs to be about how we make the arts, and our cultural institutions, central to the creation of this post-pandemic world.

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Counting down to the annual holiday and a hardened farewell to 2020, many of us sense the lack of a festive fundamental of being together this time of year. Usually, we’d be bundling into our cinemas, galleries and local theatres for the panto or Christmas production, but currently compromised or absent out of necessity.

Something like normal life will resume, eventually, of course, and any approach to how cultural uses might look in the future needs to be caveated by saying that we don’t know what kind of new normal we might be looking at. There is no question that arts and culture are at the centre of our societal identity, and in a world where we resort to survivalist thinking, about the distribution of food and medicines, and keeping people in work, equally our cultural institutions should not be forgotten. Attempts to safeguard our Cultural Sector are being made through the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund being distributed across all 4 nations. But this can only be spread so thin and innovation in where funds are utilised needs to be visionary.

The pandemic has opened up a whole range of debates about how we live in the future and part of that discussion needs to be about how we make the arts, and our cultural institutions, central to the creation of this post-pandemic world. Although the Culture Sector has seen disastrous impacts, the strength and resilience of the Sector is reflected in recent news of the £300 million investment to build a new film studio, Eastbrook Studios London, in Barking & Dagenham and the recent consent for the Elstree Studios in Hertsmere. We also see some of our most famous music and theatre venues such as Ronnie Scott’s, rolling out a new programme of streaming performances. Innovation like this creates a wider share of enriching experiences, which can perhaps be viewed as some compensation.

However, we think, and you will hear Iceni say this to you a lot(!), that the real answer lies in that most magical and misunderstood of concepts; mixed use. Iceni’s Planning and Heritage teams are part-way through a public inquiry into a proposal for a scheme with a hotel, cinema, bar and restaurant, to be introduced to the former Saville Theatre, now Odeon Cinema, on Shaftesbury Avenue. The question of whether mixed use can deliver vitality has come to the fore, and hours of cross-examination has only further convinced us that what we’re proposing is a truly and hugely exciting prospect, a brilliantly designed scheme (by Jestico & Whiles) that captures the zeitgeist; its ‘heart space’ combines all these uses into a single space for entertainment.

If 2020 showed us anything it is the human capability to adapt. And Culture, we have seen, does not thrive in isolation but with complete integration as part of the wider fabric of our cities and places

Ailish Killilea Associate,Built Heritage and Townscape

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