When fire destroyed the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC), the roof and ornate 1893 Grand Hall fared the worst.
Fortunately, the independent theatre and arts venue, beloved community hub and South London landmark had property insurance.
We made payments of more than £15 million. But it wasn’t money alone that helped the stunning Grade II-listed building come back stronger after the crisis.
After the fire
It would be fair to say that we went into this process with apprehension as to what to expect. The stakes were very high for us – the organisation’s future depended upon what happened next.
Artistic director and CEO, David Jubb, fought to keep the curtain going up. His team managed to stage two shows the next day in the undamaged part of the building.
Meanwhile, we rapidly got a 20-strong expert team onsite and put plans for the rebuild in motion.
Rebecca Holt said, "Aviva’s major loss team were onsite first thing on the Saturday morning following the fire while we were still camped out in an estate agent’s office across the road."
Aviva’s director of technical claims, Andrew Wilkinson, said: “We knew BAC’s budget was already stretched so we organised for an interim payment to reach their bank account within a week even though the cause of the fire had yet to be established.”
They had our mobile numbers
In those first crucial days we prioritised supporting the BAC team.
Several bikes had burned so employees got a payment of £150 each to rent bikes.
A short-term injection of money allowed BAC to replace staff laptops.
We paid for temporary office accommodation in another part of the building so the BAC team could stay on site and keep the venue operating.
It was really important for us to reassure BAC that we would support them. We knew it was going to be a long journey with difficult conversations and decisions. They had our mobile numbers and were encouraged to call us with any questions.
The show must go on
The historic building was in serious peril. We arranged for contractors to take control of the site with fencing and security, while building experts started planning longer-term repairs.
A replacement roof was urgently needed. Rather than rush it, we worked with BAC and Haworth Tompkins architects to build a temporary roof. This gave protection while the new Grand Hall roof was carefully created section by section.
Once the staff were taken care of and the building secured, the next priority was business continuity.
BAC was only insured for two years for business interruption. The re-build would take three and a half.
Alternative venues were sought so shows could still go on. We wanted to make sure the arts community didn’t suffer too much.
A beautiful challenge
Although the 1893 Grand Hall was beautiful, it presented challenges as a performance space. The building was originally a town hall. The acoustics didn’t work well, ventilation was poor, and the barrel-vaulted fibrous plaster ceiling was inaccessible for lighting and scenery rigs.
BAC wanted to incorporate modern theatre facilities while keeping the surviving character. In consultation with architects Haworth Tompkins, Historic England and Aviva, BAC decided on a wooden latticework ceiling. It echoes the pattern of the original mouldings while improving access for rigging.
Another architectural decision was to keep the scarred wall surfaces distressed by the fire. This involved cleaning and decontaminating the fire damage. Then sealing rather than plastering the walls. The effect is striking and true to the history of the building but came at a cost.
The mosaic floor in the east corridor was re-laid piece by piece. Imogen Long from Haworth Tompkins painstakingly picked them all up, scanning the floor, bag in hand, recording their location.
We were on hand for all these decisions. The cost to reinstate aspects of the building in this way was often greater than a simple rebuild. Working together, we found outcomes that suited both parties.
A year at the Battersea Arts Centre
young people and children attend workshops
Andrew Wilkinson said: “In three and a half years, there has not been one cross word between the BAC and Aviva teams. Considering how high the stakes were and how emotional the situation, this is quite an achievement. We were proud to support BAC as they negotiated with contractors to ensure they got the right price and result for their needs.”
All of BAC’s team and Board are incredibly grateful for the way Aviva have approached this relationship. Rebuilding such a significant part of our building was a huge undertaking for a charity of our size. To be able to do this in partnership with our insurer, has made every step of the way that much easier.