Photo of Worcester Arts Workshop

Worcester Arts Workshop, the city centre venue that has run for more than 40 years, is to permanently close. It has been announced today that Worcester Arts Workshop will not reopen, following the closure of the Sansome Street building in March, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The creative hub has received emergency funding during lockdown, enabling online classes and projects to continue. However the ongoing closure of the building and the impracticality of making the spaces COVID-safe have meant that the City centre premises will not reopen.

Worcester Arts Workshop will not be going into administration, having settled all refunds and payments. But with ongoing expenditure, no income and the building requiring considerable investment, the WAW Board of Trustees have made the difficult but responsible decision to permanently close.

Worcester Arts Workshop’s Board of Trustees has made the following statement:

It is with great sadness that we announce that Worcester Arts Workshop will not be re-opening.  The lease will be handed back to the owners, Worcestershire County Council.

As with all arts organisations, the pandemic has brought considerations to the fore that have required us to think differently about our future.  There are a number of reasons for this decision.

  1. The character and intimacy of our building has always been one of its great strengths and attractions.  But even if we were able to open soon, public health requirements make it impossible to see how social distancing can be implemented in our small spaces, making much of our work impossible and uneconomic to continue.
  2. The building needs investment to make it fully physically inclusive and accessible, and to make it environmentally sound.  This requires a considerable fundraising campaign.  The pandemic and its aftermath will change the economic outlook of the country for a decade. Trusts and Foundations will (rightly) be working to support people, not refurbishing buildings.
  3. For some time the Board has been concerned that building running costs have meant that energy and time has had to go into generating income in-house, rather than going out to work in schools, community centres etc. This has limited our reach and impact.
  4. The building incurs costs even when standing empty, so we are currently faced with considerable expenditure and no income.

The Board has not taken this decision lightly, but only after much discussion and consideration. 

Ultimately it’s the work that matters and not the building.  Indeed, since we closed we have been able to continue working with people through funding from ACE, Worcester City Council and Severn Arts – foregrounding children’s creativity in lockdown, digital classes, and working with artists of colour through our Black Lives Matter project.

All refunds, partial and full, have been made to hirers and students, all other payments settled and we anticipate the permanent closure of the building by the end of September. 

Our thanks and thoughts go to the staff, volunteers and partners that have given their professional expertise to the Workshop over a long time, and especially to support the progress and impact of the last couple of years.  The decision to close the building will come as sad news but it is the only responsible decision in the circumstances.

It is the end of an era with great memories for people in the City. Over the 40+ years at Sansome Street, WAW has made a hugely positive impact on the lives of many, many people.  That’s a good legacy to leave.

Director of Worcester Arts Workshop Hannah Phillips said;

“During the two-year transformation process we have always looked to the future and that is what we must do again during these uncertain and challenging times. The Board have taken a financially and ethically responsible, yet difficult decision. As artists we now have to find alternative ways of working outside of buildings, yet rooted within communities.”

Richard Hayhow, co-founder of Worcester Arts Workshop and Director of Open Theatre added;

“WAW began its life as a fledgling arts centre in the mid-70’s – our aspiration in those days was to work with a wide and diverse range of Worcester people, creating art together that was engaging and meaningful for them. Since then, through an impressive number of years (44!), the work has remained true to that aspiration in many manifestations and despite some significant challenges. In particular, the collapse of the front wall in 1983 during the building’s redevelopment was devastating but in the end served to reinforce the importance of people as being at the heart of the work rather than the building itself.  A wide range of outreach work grew from that period, engaging even more people in creative practices, and the organisation adapted in response to this. So even now when faced with the complete closure of the building I am hopeful that the WAW spirit and aspiration will live on, to be reinvented and reimagined by the many people who have explored and realised their creativity there.”

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