Riverside Studios is a true pillar of London culture. Opening as a dedicated TV studio in the 1930s, shows like ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ and ‘Doctor Who’ were filmed there until it was redeveloped into an arts centre in the mid-’70s – though Studio 1 remained in use for filing telly: it famously played host to ’90s institution ‘TFI Friday’, which proudly declared that it was coming ‘live, from Riverside Studios!’ at the start of each edition.
If it’s been off your radar lately: well, that’s not really a surprise, as it shut down in 2014 for a swish but eye-wateringly expensive refurb. It reopened at the end of 2019 and almost immediately ran into trouble when it was forced to close again the following March due to the pandemic, and has since received almost £3m in government and Arts Council support to keep it afloat.
Unfortunately things have just gotten worse: energy bills for the large arts complex – which has three theatres and a cinema – have tripled and it’s now teetering on the brink, with the administration process started. Speaking to The Guardian, joint chief executives Tony Lankester and Rachel Tackley suggested there was about a week to save it from administration, which would require an immediate injection of £500k and the commitment to put a further £750k in over the coming months.
It would be a huge shame if it closed. Buildings come and go, and truth be told Riverside Studios isn’t necessarily worth preserving for purely heritage reasons. But I went down the other day (to review kids’ musical ‘Winnie the Pooh’) for the first time since it closed and the redevelopment has been quite something: it’s a really nice, airy, modern arts centre that has a solid buzz to it. It’s struggled financially, but also to a certain extent artistically: recent programming has been confusingly eclectic. But it would feel like a crime if this shiny west London cultural hub were to end its days converted into yet more luxury flats. To that end, the building’s trustees hope that if administration goes ahead, it can stay operating as an arts centre. But any future owner will find themselves saddled with many of the same challenges: it’s a tough time for arts venues in London, and Riverside Studios may not be the last to find itself in a difficult position.
Riverside Studios remains open as normal, for now.
Crisp Rd, W6 9RL.
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