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Visit a Space #2: Platform Southwark

While businesses are closed around Waterloo we want to bring you their work and promote their business through our digital festival. Next up we have Platform Southwark, a gallery, rehearsal space, co-working offices and artist's studios.

We spoke to artist and co-founder of the space Sean Rohr about their work and future plans.

How did you open Platform Southwark?

We started in 2015 as a partnership between a number of creative arts organisations bringing to life an unused building just off The Cut, in the lead-up to a new development. It had been a squat and was laying derelict before we came in. The landlord at the time was a private developer, who ended up selling the site to TfL. We only imagined being here for a year or two, so it's a surprise to be in our fifth year.

Why did you open the space?

Platform is a gallery, rehearsal space, co-working offices and artist's studios, all under one roof. The common thread running through everybody's programmes is that we all work support artists, and encourage greater participation in the arts. Each organisation has a different focus: Roughly speaking, Platform Projects is the contemporary arts programme, encompassing exhibitions and artist residencies. Young Vic run their outreach programme with workshops for young directors and community groups. Illuminate Productions commissions public art, and Brainchild does a bit of each, as well as planning its brilliant camping festival in Sussex.

What is your role personally?

I'm a co-founder of the space, and on a day-to-day I handle Platform Projects, the contemporary arts programme - as well as the general site management - maintenance, etc. Outside of my organisational role, I'm an artist - I have a studio in the building.

How do you see yourselves within the community of Waterloo?

Waterloo has inevitably shaped the character of the space. Previous to this I'd spent some time in Soho - its similar in being a place that many people from around the city, even the world, come to - though if you spend time here there's a strong local undercurrent. It's different to Soho in that it feels more intimate here, and more creative - people take risks here, creatively. A huge part of that is Young Vic - it's like a stellar body around which the local creative community orbits. You end up there, one way or another.

Can you tell me about some of the projects that you've hosted?

After five years there's too many to count. From the community side, projects like Young Vic's Cut Cart and our Stories of Being festival of Mental Wellbeing in the Creative Arts were ambitious, and fantastic. We've had so many brilliant exhibitions. Other moments that come to mind: Brainchild's "Hatch", an ongoing series of performance variety shows... Greta Eacott's "Reverb Room" sound performances, and artist Byzantia Harlow's solo show, where she filled the gallery with five tonnes of soil to create an esoteric lunar landscape. But with the hindsight of a few years, I'm really happy to say that it's been less about individual projects and more about the opportunities and friendships that have arisen.

How are you working around COVID-19?

The pandemic has meant our projects have been postponed and office work is being done from home. The building is a social space by design, so we're just keeping an eye on government guidance to see how we can move forward - looking at ways of doing exhibitions which avoid large groups of people - e.g. staggered openings, and longer opening hours. The economic impact of the pandemic will be dramatic on the creative sector, but it will create opportunities too - crisis always does. We want to be a resource for artists at a time of real need.

What do you see for the future of Platform Southwark?

The nature of Platform being a meanwhile space is that we've always taken things a day at a time. We were expecting to close in Spring 2021, but at this point who knows - the world is unrecognisable from where it was a couple of months ago, so all bets are off. We'd love to be able to open our doors again to the public as soon as possible.

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