Last week I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of Mountview’s jaw-dropping new £28m building in Peckham – just 48 hours before Mountview management were granted full possession and the students were allowed in on Friday. The place was crawling with dozens of busy “snaggers” and it was very noisy and dusty – much racing against the clock to get the finishing touches sorted. And everyone on the premises, including me, was hard-hatted and in high vis clobber.
Well I have been known to say that buildings don’t matter much and that it’s the quality of the training which counts. Of course I stand by that. However glitzy the building is, if the teaching isn’t up to scratch then go somewhere else. But in this case, I think it really is going to make a massive difference – to Mountview students, staff and, crucially, to the local community. There’s a lot of arts (in general) in Peckham anyway and with full commitment and support from the London Borough of Southwark this new development has the potential to change many lives.
Positioned on the former wasteland (once a timber merchants) beside the canal, behind the award-winning library, Mountview now has enough space to teach all its students everything on a single site. Formerly, back in cramped Wood Green, technical theatre had, perforce, to be taught in a different building and shows staged all over the place which didn’t do much for cohesiveness and inter-departmental collaboration. Now there are two on-site theatres (the larger 200 seater one will be ready by Easter 2019). Of course there are full facilities for teaching all aspects of theatre therein – and there are 23 studios on four floors. Masses of staff accommodation and storage space will mean everyone can work better and more collaboratively. Then there’s a large rehearsal room with office and kitchen attached which will be available for hire – as will music practice rooms and other facilities, all of which will help both with putting the place firmly on the map as well as generating income.
The word “community” comes up in almost every sentence as I am shown round. The intention is, obviously, to retain vocational training as the core of Mountview’s work and there are no plans to increase student numbers other than, possibly, launching some new specialist course for small numbers. Mountview has done this recently anyway with its imaginative MA programme.
The big change will be many more classes and activities at all levels for anyone who wants to come. “I’d like to double the number of young people who attend our Saturday sessions to at least 500, for example” principal/artistic director, Stephen Jameson tells me over a homely cuppa amongst the packing chests and builders. He and his staff will also work with adults of all ages including well-being (yoga etc) along with performing arts. Community groups will be able to use the theatres and of course the many student shows will be open to the public – like the ground floor coffee shop and the roof top restaurant which has very arresting views of the London skyline.
So committed is arts-enthusiastic Southwark to all this that it has lent Mountview £21m on a 35 year, modest rate, fixed-rate, mortgage as well as giving it a grant of over £6m. The rest of the cost has come – or will do – from fund raising, personal donations and trusts and foundations.
I am now, really looking forward to seeing a show – later this term, I hope, in the completed Backstage Theatre, as the studio theatre is called. After all it’s south London, where all sensible people live or are based, so I can get to it very easily.
Who says I never write good news stories?