The Africa Centre – located in Covent Garden for nearly five decades – is planning a new home in Southwark. The centre – first opened in 1964 – controversially sold its Covent Garden building to developers in 2011 and has been without a permanent venue since then.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mayor of London Boris Johnson were among those who signed a letter to The Times protesting against the sell-off. They wrote: “A vibrant Africa Centre in the heart of London can help to ensure that the city retains its status as the place where the continent engages with the rest of the world.”
The centre describes itself as a “vibrant home-away-from-home and cultural hub for the African diaspora”.
Now the charity has applied to Southwark Council for planning permission to turn Gunpowder House in Great Suffolk Street into its new long-term home.
The Africa Centre is particularly interested to consider input from a range of creative voices and influences that will inform a pan-African aesthetic in areas such as: interior design, furniture and fittings, signage, graphic identity. It encourages a design approach that recognises culturally specific behaviours and sensibilities, and how these can positively inform not only the look and feel of the building, but also the user experience.
From its early days, The Africa Centre served as the only safe space for the burgeoning African diaspora communities in London at the time. The organisation played a crucial role in hosting and supporting various liberation movements agitating for political independence across a number of African countries in the 60s and 70s. Many prominent African cultural and political figures passed through The Africa Centre doors. It was famously selected as the venue for the public release of a statement from Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment on Robben Island.
As time progressed into the 80s and 90s, The Africa Centre became the go-to place for Afro-centric raves, debates, intellectual discussions, political activism and social gatherings etc. In the 1990s, the Soul II Soul sound system led by the legendary Jazzie B, had residency at the venue and hosted countless memorable nights for many years.
The plans include a book and music shop to promote and share African literature, music, and culture, a cafe/bar offering an “African culinary experience” and an events space for exhibitions, lectures and debates.