08 Mar We are getting ready to move into our new home
IT’S TIME TO MOVE IN, ALMOST!
Anyone that has ever prepared to move into a new home will be familiar with the mix of emotions and activities that come with it. Excitement, anxiety, lots of paperwork, nervousness, planning, invitations, other logistics, etc. The process can certainly be challenging but the anticipation and excitement of unveiling months and in some cases, years’ worth of hard grinding makes it all worth it in the end. Guess what, we are about to move in!
After months of planning, consultations, coordination, and building, we are thrilled to share that we are inching closer to opening doors to our new home. Behold, the new home for contemporary African culture, heritage, and thought leadership in London!
It was midway through the coronavirus pandemic that we streamlined our operations to focus on the refurbishment of our new flagship building. It has not been a journey without its challenges, but it has also been highly rewarding in so many ways. We had to temporarily shut our doors in March 2021 to commence the renovation works. We were indeed concerned about the impact that a prolonged closure would have on our mission. However, we were also motivated by the opportunities for social cohesion and unique cultural experiences that a dedicated Africa-focussed space would offer to the diverse communities we serve.
Now that the wait is over, well, almost – and in true African tradition – we are preparing to throw a house-warming party! Yes, this means coming together in our bright colours, to enjoy food, drinks, music, and conversation. To celebrate the launch of the new Africa Centre in London, we are planning several activities over a long weekend in early summer (dates TBC). We cannot wait to welcome everyone and show true African hospitality. We have invited several special guests and will be unveiling some iconic artwork and showcasing the best of African creativity and entrepreneurship through our pan-African cuisine offering and the architectural, interiors, and branding design embedded in our building.
How we got here
For those not familiar, it might be helpful to go over a brief history of The Africa Centre (this might come in handy for small talk as you munch and sip during our opening celebrations!).
The 1960s was an exciting period for Africa with many countries attaining independence from colonial rule. In London, the then very small but burgeoning African diaspora, with the help of British allies like our first Director, Margaret Feeney, were coalescing around the idea of a “home away from home”. Following many conversations that initially started in the mid-1950s, The Africa Centre was formed in 1961. It then launched its building to the public, in Covent Garden, London, in 1964.
Inspired by the desire to educate about Africa while serving as custodians of its cultural heritage in London and beyond, the new organisation became the go-to place for the meeting of minds and a ‘taste of home’. The Centre positioned itself as a safe and trusted space not just for culture but also advocacy, intellectual discussions, and thought leadership.
The launch of the Covent Garden site was officiated by the late Kenneth Kaunda, then newly elected leader of independent Zambia. Through the subsequent years, leading African artists, writers, academics, politicians, and musicians met in the Centre to inspire one another, and share their visions of Africa with varied audiences, helping to nurture cross-cultural understanding and dialogue. Future icons such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Angelique Kidjo, Walter Rodney, Sally Mugabe, Fela Kuti, Alice Walker, Lubaina Himid, Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri, Jazzie B and Soul II Soul, and many others, all featured regularly at The Africa Centre.
Why Southwark and why now?
Over the years, our charity has evolved into a forward-thinking, inclusive, and respected cultural institution that promotes positive conversations about Africa.
In 2013, we relocated from our former home in Covent Garden to our present location in Southwark, a borough with the highest concentration of people of African and Caribbean descent. This was a strategic move aimed at bringing us closer to our communities. Besides, Southwark is hailed as the cultural heartbeat of London, home to other cultural attractions like the Tate Modern, Southbank, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and Borough Market, amongst others.
We are proud of our past and passionate about our future. Today, we sit at the heart of progressive conversations about Africa, inspired by the fresh consciousness of a new generation and the wisdom of seasoned champions of Africa. We continue to be a bridge between Africans in the diaspora and the continent, supporting young people and providing a platform for collaboration, strategic partnership, and delivering programmes that address the needs of our communities.
What to expect
Our new home is a four-story 1960s former office block that has been transformed into the most welcoming cultural space in London.
The Ground Floor will house our Pan-African kitchen and restaurant, operated by Tatale, led by Akwasi Brenya-Mensa. In partnership with Tatale, we will offer unique Afrocentric culinary experiences, showcasing food and drink from across Africa and the diaspora.
On the First Floor will be our in-house bar, offering a space for beverages and refreshments, as well as being a meeting point for professional networking or just relaxing.
The second floor will be a multi-functional space, serving as both a gallery and a general event space. This will launch with a first solo exhibition by rising visual artist Sungi Mlengeya from Tanzania. Through her monochromatic acrylic portraits, Sungi employs her use of negative space to shed light on Blackness and womanhood. She has exhibited in London, New York, Kampala, and Cape Town, and was honoured in Apollo 40 under 40 Africa, in 2020.
You can expect to see some phenomenal contemporary African design. Special thanks to our architects, Freehaus, our interior designer Tola Ojuolape, and our brand designer, Mam’gobozi Design Factory. We would be remiss not to mention Arts Council England who funded the purchase of our new building and the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund whose grant enabled us to commence the refurbishment work.
Celebrate with us and support our future
We will also be unveiling a special mural by Mozambican artist and poet, Malangatana Ngwenya. Originally installed in our Covent Garden building, the mural was carefully preserved and has been fully restored and will now take pride of place in our new home.
Other planned events include panel discussions, performances, market stalls, and family-friendly events. This is more than just us reopening our doors; we are restating our commitment to being a pillar for African and Caribbean communities in the UK and all those who love Africa and care about its people.
As things stand, we will need additional funding to see the completion of the third and fourth floors which house the learning and research centre and the business hub respectively. For us to fully serve our communities, we are appealing to our corporate partners and other stakeholders to consider how they might be able to sponsor the completion of the remaining work.
You know that African saying about how it takes a village to raise a child, we have put our twist to it: “it takes the community to keep The Africa Centre running and sustainable”. So, we need you to join us on our important mission to advocate, connect and educate about Africa. There are several ways you can do this. For example, by volunteering during our events, donating towards our programmes, helping to raise awareness, collaborating, attending our events, following us on our social media, and signing up for our newsletters.
It has been a long journey, but we are very proud of what we have achieved so far. We hope you share our excitement and look forward to providing more refined details about our opening over the coming weeks. In the meantime, tell a friend to tell a friend!