Based in the heart of Deptford, The Albany is a multi-use arts centre which also plays host to a further 14 community arts organisations. It is an artistic and community resource with a fully equipped theatre space, studio theatre, community cafe and rehearsal and meeting rooms available for hire. The Albany has a strong commitment to working collaboratively with the diverse communities of South East London.
The Albany presents a vibrant programme of theatre, hip hop dance theatre, music, comedy, spoken word and family events. It encompasses a flexible theatre in the round with a maximum capacity of 300 seated/500 standing. In addition, there are two smaller performance spaces seating 50 and 60.
The Albany appeals to a broad cross section of the community providing a variety of services and facilities to allow everyone the opportunity to participate creatively.
The Albany has played a vital role for the people of Deptford for over 100 years. It was originally established in 1894 as the Deptford Fund by a group of philanthropically minded people. The Fund's founders wanted to improve the plight of Deptford's community, many of whom suffered from poverty and deprivation and the adverse effects of unemployment as a result of the closure of the docks in 1869.
The Deptford Fund provided financial support for local charitable enterprises, but within a few years decided to fund its own projects within a purpose built centre. In 1898 the foundation stone of the Albany Institute was laid and in 1899 the building, on the corner of Lamerton Street, Albury Street and Creek Road, was officially opened by its patron, the Duchess of Albany.
After the war the Albany Institute continued much of its pre-war activities, with clubs and outings for mothers and grandparents. But it was in 1966 with the appointed of director Paul Curno that the institute’s fortunes were transformed. He gave Albany Institute a new lease of life, focusing on social issues of importance to local people. It was under Paul Curno’s direction that the Albany Institute was renamed the Albany.
It was under the enlightened direction of Paul Curno that the Combination, a touring fringe theatre group became resident at the Albany in the early 1970s. This was the beginning of a fusion between community work and the arts that still informs the Albany today.
One of the many campaigns that the Albany supported in the 1970s was Rock Against Racism (RAR), a national anti-racism campaign, which brought black and white musicians together in a series of concerts across the country. It was during the Albany's support of RAR, in July 1978, that the Albany Empire, - the name the Combination had given to the Albany's theatre - was burnt down. The fire has subsequently been attributed to an arson attack by a group opposed to the Albany’s support of RAR and its wider commitment to multiculturalism.
Irrespective of the damage caused by the fire to the Albany Empire (theatre) in 1978, the staff and board of the Albany had long been planning and fundraising for a new building, accessible and specifically designed to fulfill the needs of a modern Deptford community. At the end of the 1970s Prince Charles laid the foundation stone in Douglas Way for a purpose built centre. The old building was demolished to make way for road widening and in 1982 the new Albany was officially opened by its new patron, Diana, Princess of Wales.
The Albany took over control of its theatre programme in April 2004 from the Art of Regeneration (AoR) partnership.
In 2005, the first full year of an Albany programme, there were 153 public performances. Theatre formed part of the programme for the first time, including 1001 Nights Now indicating the potential for the space as a ‘site specific’ environment. Interestingly, the most successful theatre productions in audience terms (Thalidomide!! A Musical and Resistance) were disability-related. Considered ‘hard to sell’ by the majority of UK venues, these events sold out at the Albany, indicating a growing identity (and audience) for the venue as a centre for disability work.
Today, the Albany continues to go from strength to strength. Creativity is at the heart of its mission, and it’s the region’s diversity that fuels it, generating new and exciting ways of producing and understanding creative work and cultural experiences.