Black Cultural Archives to open this week

New home in Brixton to be a "democratic space"
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Rebecca Atkinson
The UK’s first national Black heritage centre will open in Brixton, south London, later this week following a £7m project to create a permanent home for the Black Cultural Archives (BCA).

The collection, which is dedicated to history and culture of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain, will be housed in the renovated Raleigh Hall on Windrush Square, named to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush from Jamaica.

As well as an archive storage facility, the BCA’s new home features space for education, research and community engagement work as well as conferences, seminars and community use. Digital interactive pods sponsored by Bloomberg will enable visitors to digitally access key collections.

Paul Reid, the director of the BCA, said: “We are excited by the opportunity to reveal Black heritage throughout recorded history on these shores, and to bring our collections to life for all to learn and enjoy.”

Architects Pringles Richard Sharratt undertook the renovation of the Grade II listed building, declared at risk by English Heritage in 1992. A new loadbearing limestone wing houses the archive store and a dedicated, flexible exhibition space on the ground floor, while the original building contains a learning zone, cafe and shop as well as office and administration spaces.

The project received a £4.5m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, £1m investment from the Mayor of London and £910,000 from Lambeth Council, which has also gifted the building to the archive on a 99-year lease.

Doreen Foster, the BCA’s deputy artistic director, said: “The archive has always been open to the public but people didn’t know about us, so now we’ve moved into our new purpose-built home we are trying to make sure we remain a democratic space for everyone, because our story is relevant to the majority of the population.”

The archive’s first exhibition is Re-imagine: Black Women in Britain (until 30 November), which asks visitors to reconsider some historical narratives and accounts of Black women in Britain. It is also working in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on a photography exhibition in 2015.

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