We take a tour of new arts venue FUSEBOX, which has just opened on Kingston’s riverside for its pilot season…

Tucked away underneath the John Lewis department store are some of Kingston’s most incredible pieces of history – the footings of the original 12th-century bridge that once crossed the river and a well-preserved medieval cellar. Previously, you could only glimpse them through the window or on an open day each year. Now though they form the backdrop of a new creative space called FUSEBOX and it’s an incredibly atmospheric spot for performances and exhibitions. After a seven-month renovation project led by charity Creative Youth and supported by Kingston Council, John Lewis and the Mayor of London, FUSEBOX is now open to the public for a pilot season of activities and drop-in tours.

It has been created with a huge amount of passion. Creative Youth’s Chair, Robin Hutchinson MBE, has always had a vision for the space. “It’s genuinely one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been involved with. I’ve known the space for over 20 years – it was redundant, damp and grotty and only open one day a year. I’ve long held an ambition that if you treated it kindly it could become something magical. The work that’s been done with the help of our partners has revealed what a fantastic space it is.” The medieval cellar is lit to highlight the checkerboard of flint and chalk bricks, and the room is divided by different sections of the original bridge footings. Various experts have deemed that they do not need to be behind a glass screen. There are hopes that a light and water installation can at some point recreate an idea of how the bridge would have once crossed over the Thames.

FUSEBOX was named by Creative Youth’s board of Young Creatives and wider team and references the name of FUSE International, Creative Youth’s annual festival of performance (formerly the International Youth Arts Festival). The pilot season includes Creative Sparks scratch nights, held every Friday evening, offering a chance to see a selection of new performances in their early stages. There are also two free exhibitions by past and current Creative Talent Programme artists, Chiyana Ankhrah and Tanvi Ranjan. Ankhrah’s exhibition, LABELS: Black Mental Health and Me is a photographic documentary that focuses on the experiences of four Black British men and women. Ranjan’s work explores the human-machine relationship.

Adds Robin: “The ambition is to get as many creative people as possible here to do wonderful things. It’s not like this is going to be only for theatre or only for exhibitions, it is whatever people with imagination say it is going to be. It might be fashion, dance, gaming or anything else – it is a chameleon space that can be flexible.” It also aims to be a space for everyone. As well as collaborations with creatives, local schools are being welcomed, as is the wider community. The outside terrace that fronts the river will also be made more usable with the idea that performances can be held there, or locals can simply pitch up with their lunch to sit outside. “I hope that it will animate this side of the bridge in the same way that the restaurants have done for the other side. It will also complement the other cultural offerings in Kingston – how wonderful if residents and visitors come in here on their way to a show at the Rose, for example. People will know that they can come into Kingston and there will always be something creative happening.”

Image (c) Charlotte Levy