Woolwich: London’s latest creative hub

​Ian Shillito, Course Leader of Production Arts in London South East Colleges says that the recent creative developments in Woolwich offer a great opportunity for local students, but warns that education reforms could negatively impact the industry.

The bridge allows students easy passage between the college and industry venues
The bridge allows students easy passage between the college and industry venues

There is a buzz in Woolwich: The creative industries have arrived. Re-development plans include a brand new creative district at the Royal Arsenal that will house a 450-seat theatre, outdoor performance spaces and rehearsal studios.

The hub will not only place Woolwich at the forefront of arts and culture in the UK but also embrace the Thames Estuary production corridor, a bold vision by the Mayor of London who aims to transform the Thames estuary into a world class industrial hub for the creative and cultural industries, creating jobs and developing new talent to benefit London and the wider South East.

There is a buzz in Woolwich: The creative industries have arrived.

London South East Colleges are perfectly positioned within the proposed corridor and the Greenwich campus is situated five minutes from the Royal Arsenals new creative district. In line with developments, the further education college has launched a brand new performing arts department that offers pre-drama school training in acting, dance and production and technical arts.

Back in September last year, 55 performing art students started their journeys into the industry. The demographic pulls from South East London’s wider boroughs to Central and beyond providing an important creative bridge between the West End and the Southeast.

Our bridge allows students easy passage between the industry venues in central London such as National Theatre learning programmes, West End shows and research trips and in return, easy access for industry professionals to deliver onsite workshops.

Creative education in schools

It is important to mention that the due to the current government policy to push the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc), creative art GCSE options are becoming extremely limited, which is worrying. The performing arts are part of these options. It’s within this provision that you will find the future lighting designers and technicians, set and costume designer or stage managers.

Where will our new technicians come from?  

Currently, production arts and technical theatre are not part of the national curriculum. Students usually discover these subjects by participating in GCSE drama classes and are directed to further education (FE) study by supportive drama and art teachers.

If there is little choice at GCSE, where will these future production staff go to get inspired? If this continues the fallout could be catastrophic to the FE creative arts and drama school recruitment and eventually the industry. Where will our new technicians come from?  

Students are thriving in Production Arts

It’s become clear recently that the first-time students are introduced to production arts as a career option is at FE. Therefore, our new production arts course at London South East Colleges has taken on a pivotal role in recruiting and training new talent. It has become a lifeline to the continuing success of the UK’s creative industries and the only one of its kind south of the river.

This year, we have our first intake of production art students who are presently interviewing for drama school and apprenticeship schemes. Their future looks bright. Most of the students live within the upcoming creative district and production corridor and are on course to be our first successful graduates under the LSEC umbrella.

So far students have experienced a wide variety of industry themed sessions and workshops looking at scenic design, stage make up, lighting design, prop making and puppetry and participated in the Royal Opera House Design challenge and had placements at Greenwich Theatre, Black Heath Hall’s Children’s Opera, Greenwich and Lewisham’s Young People’s Theatre and Greenwich and Dockland’s International Festival.

Colleges provide the link between communities; they provide inclusion amongst culture

We are determined to make our department a destination location, which not only pulls from the locality but also from a wider London demographic. As the Royal Arsenal creative hub and the Thames Production corridor develops, we aim to offer our students first-class introductory vocational learning within London’s newest and vibrant creative district.

Colleges provide the link between communities; they provide inclusion amongst cultures and the creative arts offer the same cohesion on many levels.  We have already developed relationships with many theatre industry companies, venues and professionals dotted across the boroughs and they have welcomed us with open arms.

There definitely is a buzz in Woolwich… It’s called community.