04 Apr A New Home For Contemprary African Culture and Heritage
An Exciting New Chapter For The Africa Centre
The Africa Centre first opened its doors at 38 King Street, Covent Garden in London in 1964. The first president of Zambia, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda led the inaugural opening. Since then, we have been at the forefront of promoting authentic African cultural experiences in London. We are proud of our past and passionate about our future.
From its early days, The Africa Centre served as the only safe space for the burgeoning African diaspora communities in London then. It played a crucial role in supporting activism and liberation movements agitating for independence across Africa at the time. Many leading African cultural and political figures passed through The Africa Centre. It was famously selected as the venue for the public release of a statement from Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment on Robben Island.
Going into the 1980s and 90s, The Africa Centre became the go-to place for all things contemporary African. From raves, debates, intellectual discussions, political activism and to social gatherings etc. The Soul II Soul sound system led by the legendary Jazzie B, had a residency at the venue and hosted countless memorable nights for many years.
Looking back, we are very proud of our history even though there have been some bumps along the way. We remain excited and passionate about what the future holds for us as and for the communities we serve.
A New Home
A difficult but necessary decision was made in 2013 to relocate from our historical home in Covent Garden. In 2015, we managed to secure £1.6 million in funding from Arts Council England. This was used to purchase the freehold of a four-storey former office building in Southwark, known as Gunpowder House. We also acquired 25-year leases on two large railway arches directly behind, through selling the leasehold on the Covent Garden property. We then relocated to our current location in 2016 and currently operates from the arches.
In December 2018, The Africa Centre was awarded a £1.6 million grant from the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund, to redevelop Gunpowder House. After an extensive tender process, we appointed Freehaus as our architects. They are now in the later stages of the architectural design process with building work expected to commence in late summer 2020.
In order to focus on this very important work, we made a decision in 2019 to temporarily suspend our popular annual Africa Centre Summer Festival. We do, however, have plans to relaunch in the near future. At a time when Afrobeats is ruling the airwaves and when a younger generation of Africans in the diaspora are becoming more conscious about their heritage, we have an important role to play in providing a home where everyone can feel at home and freely express themselves.
We aim to be the first stop for people visiting the UK from Africa and/or its extensive diaspora and to be a reliable resource centre for anyone interested in learning about Africa.
The redevelopment of Gunpowder House will bring a number of new and exciting programmes and events to our diverse communities. For example, we plan to host and facilitate networking and business events, run African language classes, panel discussions, cultural exchange programmes, intellectual debates, club nights, live performances and exhibitions for both new and established artists. The new Africa Centre will provide a welcoming and inclusive space for all ages and backgrounds. With the Africa-inspired café bar and restaurant, we look forward to offering an authentic culinary experience, showcasing food and drink from across the continent.
We will celebrate and showcase the richness and diversity of Africa and its UK diaspora, bringing communities together through art and culture. We will deliver our Five Pillars of activity through various forms, telling the many stories of Africa – past, present and future – strengthening our reach and impact and engaging in robust debate to educate and challenge stereotypes.
Our ambitious vision is to build a broad and diverse community that is drawn together by a common interest in Africa and its extensive diaspora. We will also seek to build meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with individuals, groups and communities on the continent.
We anticipate a long and challenging journey but we also excited and cannot wait until we open the doors to the new building and welcome everyone in. Along the way, there will be a number of consultative sessions with all stakeholders to make sure that our plans are aligned with expectations. So we welcome any suggestions and contributions from the public and/or any of our stakeholders to help us create a home that all of us will be proud of.
We will be happy to hear your thoughts, questions and suggestions, feel free to get in touch via phone, email or social media. We will provide regular updates regarding the building work through our corporate communication channels.