Upton Park community centre saved by theatre arts charity

The Applecart Arts team are taking over

The Applecart Arts team are taking over - Credit: Harold Road Community Centre

An arts charity has saved a community centre from closure by launching a 120-seat theatre and “creative hub” for emerging talent.

Harold Road Community Centre

Harold Road Community Centre - Credit: Applecart Arts

Storytelling group Applecart Arts took over the long-term lease at Harold Road Community Centre in Harold Road, Upton Park, a few days ago after the borough’s methodist churches could no longer keep the social venue afloat.

Now, the team behind the new theatre, art studios, rehearsal spaces and café hope to provide a creative space “that celebrates the community it serves” by nurturing emerging talent from the borough.

“We’re going to need a lot of help and money’s tight but the opportunity to create a thriving artistic hub in the area is too exciting to miss out on,” said Applecart artistic director Peter Moreton.

The former Eastenders actor, who lived in Newham during the late eighties and early nineties, said the move had been a collaboration between his social activist theatre group and the Methodist church.

“I suspect the building would have been knocked down and turned into unaffordable flats otherwise,” he said.

Applecart Arts retells familiar stories through a social-political lens using drama, poetry, music and comedy.

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Previous hits have included a reimagining of Mark’s Gospel called i am Mark and Charles Dicknens’ novella The Chimes.

“We started as a story-telling company”, explained Peter of the group’s roots above a pub in Whitechapel in 2008.

“Then we got more and more involved with community development which we are keen to continue here.”

The 48-year-old envisages exploring subjects such as politics and racial justice to connect with audiences, while plans are already afoot for a Newham heritage piece which “places immigration in a more positive light”.

“We are quite keen to tell stories which place people within their communities,” he said.

Supporting the venture is a pool of acting, writing and directing talent from the So & So Arts Club, which has generously lent the venue a “pop-up theatre kit” ahead of its first play Daredevil Rides to Jarama on March 13 and 14.

The club will also use the space to produce its annual theatre festival, Women and War: Exodus, in July.

Meanwhile, groups can continue to hire the space out while the café, opening on March 6, will provide opportunities for social get-togethers.

“We are keeping all the community aspects of it,” said Peter. “We’re trying to be as flexible as we can.”

If you’re a writer or performer or just want to find out more about the group, visit applecartarts.com