12:02pm Thursday 17th January 2013
By Mark Chandler
BLACKHEATH Conservatoire, which was founded 132 years ago, staying open during both world wars, could be killed off by the recession unless it raises £75,000.
The conservatoire, which provides music, art and drama classes to more than 1,200 people a week and is believed to be where the London Symphony Orchestra started, faces closure.
Founded in 1881 using community bonds and housed in Grade II listed buildings on Lee Road, the centre is part of the capital's oldest surviving purpose built multi-arts complex and has one of the last remaining operational Victorian life-drawing studios.
But head of information Edward McCarthy says it has been badly hit by the financial crisis, relying on fees from students which have declined in recent years due to people reigning in their spending.
Mr McCarthy said: "We've been part of the cultural life of Blackheath for 132 years so we're very established in the community. We've been providing art and music all through that time. It would be tragic if this recession were to kill us off."
Having put together a new sustainable business model, the conservatoire still needs £175,000 by the end of next month or it will shut.
They are hoping one major donor will provide £25,000. But the centre needs a further £75,000 to be pledged by the public - sums which will be matched pound for pound by another group of donors who have signed up to help.
Chief executive Sydney Thornbury said: "The ironic thing is we're actually on the cusp of such a major transformation and the most exciting period since the conservatoire was founded."
Ms Thornbury, appointed last year, said the plan was to get rid of the place's stuffy image "throwing open the doors" to the community and running projects including work with the area's 10 most disadvantaged schools.
She said: "The potential we have is really to become the richest, most dynamic and open arts organisation in south east london but not if we can't sort out the financial things.
"The money we've gone to the public for is to take us from the old plan to the new one."
To get involved, visit Just Giving.
There will also be a series of fundraising events. Visit the website for a full list.
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