Acme Studios — #32 History of the Fire Station Building Work/Live Residency Programme (Est. 1997)

Supporting Artists since 1972

#32 History of the Fire Station Building Work/Live Residency Programme (Est. 1997)

50 stories from The Acme Archive

First opened in 1911 as the Brunswick Road Fire Station serving the community of Poplar East London, it saw active service during the Second World War. In 1971 the A12 dual carriageway was built that effectively cut the station off from the area it served, and by the time Acme came to look at it, it was in a state of disrepair, although structurally sound. The price for purchase was very low as it had been zoned for employment, but after discussion with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Acme’s plan for spaces for working and living was approved, and the building was acquired in 1995.

Acme was awarded support funding from the National Lottery through the Arts Council England to purchase, refurbish and convert the Fire Station for its new life. It was adapted to be fully accessible to all artists with a new lift serving all floors. The previous 12 Fire fighter’s residential flats were reorganised removing internal walls to make 12 high ceilinged airy open-plan work/live spaces with small kitchens and bathrooms, communal laundry facilities and large project spaces. The outside of the fire station looks much as it did when in use a hundred years ago, except for one change; red paintwork is strictly prohibited for fire stations no longer in service. In 2010 it was awarded listed status as a protected Grade II building.

The purchase of this building was intended to provide permanent accommodation, unlike Acme’s previous short-life housing for artists. In a 2012 publication celebrating the Centenary of the Fire Station building, Jonathan Harvey writes, “the temporary use of municipal housing stock programmed for demolition – was to become Acme’s principal means of helping artists, with hundreds of properties from a range of sources becoming a remarkably active and well-used resource. The property supply faded at the beginning of the 1990s; by then, ex-industrial buildings converted and managed as non-residential studio space had become Acme’s main resource and method of operation”.

With this permanent building Acme could run live/work residencies that first began as three years, then finally settling on the five-year duration to give artists in the capital a secure, affordable environment to work and live. Although not compatible with every artist, this model allows artists to maximise studio time, to have uninterrupted time and space. Previous resident Hayley Newman described her experience as “working quite intensely and then cooking a meal, so there’s this relationship between being nourished, feeding yourself and then reading, working, learning...and it’s all happening in the same space”.

In December 1997 Programme 1 began with 12 artists who moved in for the first work/live residency project, and since that time over 100 artists have lived and worked in the Fire Station.