IRIE! dance theatre is ready to participate, and celebrate with Lewisham as we become the Mayor of London’s Borough of Culture 2022 (LBOC). We played our part, as an organisation in helping to secure the award. Nevertheless, IRIE! congratulates London Borough of Lewisham on its amazing efforts and steadfastness on becoming BOC.
We were delighted to be approached by LBOC bid writing team from very early on, along with other arts, cultural and voluntary groups and organisations across the borough to contribute to the process. It was clear from those early meetings that the aim was to create opportunities that would involve and engage communities all across the borough. Opportunities, that would capture the creative and diverse voices and experiences of the borough and its residence.
As we navigate our way through the other side of the pandemic. It seems that this is the opportune time to be sharing and celebrating. We have found that lessons learnt around resilience, inequality and kindness allows for reflection and conversations about legacy. On reflection, the story of IRIE! dance theatre is typical of a number of arts and cultural organisations that started life under the leadership of the late Jenny Harris and John Turner at the Albany Empire in Deptford (now The Albany) during the 70’s, and 80’s. Their vision enabled young people, in particular to experience the transformative power of the arts; to understand the importance of culture and identity; as well as engaging in one’s community. These values have been integral to our work since we were founded in1985 with a mission to heighten the profile of dance and dancers of the African diaspora in the UK.
The past 36 years have been a journey of challenges, discovery, and growth. During which time we have felt supported by the borough, and have always been proud to represent Lewisham locally, nationally and internationally as creative and cultural ambassadors.
In January 2007, IRIE! relocated to the newly refurbished, iconic Moonshot centre, founded by Methodist Minister and Activist Sybil Phoenix OBE. Mrs Phoenix lobbied to get the Pagnell Street Centre in New Cross, which was home to the Moonshot Youth Club re-built after it was burnt down in 1977. The centre was, arguably the first purpose-built black community centre in the UK. Built to address the unmet needs of Black youths. The building also provided an initial meeting space for families of the victims of the New Cross fire, where 14 young people lost their lives in 1981.
We are privileged to be custodians of this historic building, which enables us to continue the legacy of Mrs Phoenix and others like her addressing issues around access, fairness, heritage and culture. IRIE! is committed to the development of culture and diversity. The company delivers a range of community, education and professional dance programmes, including work with children and young people, elders and emerging artists.
Weekly Community classes include, African dance, Tai Chi, Salsa, women’s only dance and exercise Classes. Our extensive education programme provides access to African and Caribbean dance fusion for groups of young people across London, including work with young people who are vulnerable and at risk, these projects are supported by funders and sponsors including Mayor of London, Young Londoners Fund and London borough of Lewisham. The company works with over 3,000 young people annually.
IRIE!’s most recent initiative is the BA (Hons) Degree in Diverse Dance Styles validated by University of Roehampton and launched in September 2018. This ground-breaking degree is the first degree of its kind in the UK. These achievements will become the foundation for shaping a brighter future for every individual we engage with. As a partner of LBOC we believe that this opportunity will provide a greater lens, for members of Lewisham’s community to engage with the work of IRIE! dance theatre. We feel, there is a-lot more to discover about our borough and the people who live here and that LBOC is the perfect vehicle spearhead that discovery.
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