By Nigel Gordon
A prestigious dance school hopes a new community-focused move will lead to greater local engagement – but dance icon Dame Darcey Bussell has appealed for funds to complete it.
In only its second move in 100 years, The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) is set to leave its historic Battersea Square headquarters forever.
RAD, one of the world’s top dance education organisations trains hundreds of dancers and dance teachers every year.
But its current home isn’t fit for purpose because it was never built to accommodate dance and can no longer cater to the global demands of the art form.
Modernising their original 1840s granary would have cost RAD £20 million – money they did not have.
And although selling the land and leaving the capital had been suggested, RAD was keen to remain in the borough of Wandsworth, which it has called home for 50 years.
Unable to find the cash, RAD was contacted by Tory-led Wandsworth Council, who put them in touch with property developers York Place Buildings.
An agreement was reached with the developer which enabled RAD to raise £17 million, partly through a land swap deal.
In the maverick deal, RAD will move down the road into a mixed-use development.
And the old granary, once converted, will form part of a £55 million development containing 34 flats and five town houses.
RAD’s new global headquarters, amid a string of some controversial developments along York Road, has been designed to involve locals in its performances.
The brand-new space on York Road will be decked out with seven dance studios, a curated dance library and archive, a shop and large café for members, visitors and the community.
And it is hoped RAD’s Step into Dance; the largest inclusive dance programme in the UK, and Silver Swans; ballet for people over 55 will help the school to become even more accessible to the public.
RAD’s RADiate initiative provides affordable dance classes to kids with special educational needs and disabilities.
And the school’s 193-seat theatre gives RAD students their own venue onsite to perform in. It also gives local schools and businesses opportunities to use the venue.
Later this year, RAD staff will start to move into their new home, which is set to open to the public next year.
RAD still has to find £2.5 million of funding. But following a dip in income, partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the school has been forced to fundraise.
This led RAD President and Strictly Come Dancing judge, Dame Darcey to plead for people to take advantage of a unique opportunity to name a seat in their state-of-the-art theatre.
Prices start from £1,000 and secures an engraved name plaque – which will remain on a seat for 20 years.
Dame Darcey Bussell said: “It is such a lovely opportunity to be part of this exciting chapter at the Royal Academy of Dance.
“The Name a Seat campaign means you can contribute to the very fabric of our new global ‘home’ for dance.
“You might want to give this gift to a family member or even honour an inspirational dance teacher and, in doing so, you will enable RAD to continue its charitable work to empower everyone through dance, regardless of ability or background.
“We look forward to seeing you in the brand-new Studio Theatre – the special studio that will celebrate the next generation of dancers, teachers and choreographers.”
Today, RAD has a presence in 83 countries and about 14,000 members worldwide. RAD UK has more than 1,000 students of all ages, from toddlers to over 55s and has 200 students enrolled on higher education courses.
Notable RAD alumni include Xander Parish, the only British dancer to dance with the Mariinsky Ballet in Russia, who took his Advanced exams in the old granary building.
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