Save Stratford Circus Save Stratford Circus. Photo: Carole Vincent

Carole Vincent reports from the launch of a campaign to save Stratford Circus, an important community arts and culture venue which has been closed by Newham Council

Stratford Circus, a valuable Arts and Culture venue in the Centre of Newham has been closed by Labour-led Newham Council. The Centre has been used to support children and adults alike in bringing innovative dance and drama productions and cultural events to everyone in Newham and beyond.

Many groups over the past twenty five years have benefitted from using and performing at Stratford Circus. The Blue Sky Actors, many of whom have special needs and who use and perform at the venue, were very vocal at a protest on Sunday about how upset they are that the venue has been closed. 

The actors’ union Equity were present along with many others including Unite Community and the Green Party, for the launch of a campaign to Save Stratford Circus.

One campaign organiser said, “we are not here for a bit of theatre, we are here to kick off the campaign to save Stratford Circus for generations to come”.

A large number of people turned up for the campaign launch and they included Linda Jordon, who recalls “I am the parent of a Blue Sky Actor, my daughter belongs to the company”. Linda remembers,

“twenty five years ago when it opened, I was a member of the Council and the idea was to expand the arts and culture for all. We were committed to including everybody and the late John Lock, Chair of the Leisure Services Committee, led the development of Stratford Circus. It has been an amazing part of Newham’s Arts and Cultural facilities and yet Newham Council has closed it with no consultation, the London Borough of Newham have lied.

We are seeing an erosion of democracy and the Council are doing nothing! They are academising our schools, ignoring people opposing the Silvertown link tunnel and privatising our NHS.

They are a Labour Council, and have seen East Ham and West Ham Labour CLPs suspended. The fight to save Stratford Circus is very important because it represents a proper, professional Industry of Culture and Arts for everyone.”

Another speaker from Newham’s NEU branch said,

“Stratford Circus is such an important resource, it’s a massive attack on the children of Newham. There are claims they (Newham Council) are doing something else for youth but its not right to close one resource in order to open another. We had to fight for this resource all those years ago and we’ll fight to keep it.” 

The contributions were passionate and a statue of the great Joan Littlewood stands nearby. Joan once spoke to the girlfriend of someone working at Stratford Theatre Royal East, (which could be next to go), the girlfriend worked at the Royal Ballet. Joan said to her, “you lot should come and do something here”, to which she responded, “I don’t think the people here will like what we do!” Joan retorted, “they will if you’re fucking good enough!”

Of course, Joan was right, Keir Hardie, Newham’s first Labour MP fought for the working class to have the arts and culture on their doorsteps. In fact, where the Stratford Circus stands there used to be a primary school and a row of houses. When they were pulled down, children played in the rubble and Joan Littlewood ran drama work in the rubble with local children.

Clint Dyer used to visit Stratford Theatre East after school asking, ‘is there anything I can do?’. He is now the Deputy Artistic Director of the National Theatre.

If you wish to get involved in this important campaign please sign the petition, email Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz on [email protected] and ‘Brighter Futures’ lead Carleene on [email protected].

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