The Rag Factory
London E1 5LJ
A little bit of history
When we first set the Rag Factory up in February 2006, our objective was fairly simple. The first thing we wanted to do was provide affordable rehearsal space for people to use, because we knew from our experience of working with actors that many projects fell at the first hurdle for want of an affordable space in which to rehearse, let alone perform.
We found a building we liked that had previously been in use as artists' studios by two prominent Turner prize nominees, opened the doors... and were hugely encouraged to see people coming through them and adopting the space for their own purposes.
'Supporting the creative fabric of London'
This was our strapline from the day we opened, and we're proud to say it still applies as much today as it did then. The Rag Factory is not run to make a profit, it's run in such a way that it covers its costs and can be self-sustaining. This means we have to charge something, but it's not as much as many commercial operations might be charging.
How we support the people who come here depends on the individual or group concerned. For some, it's sufficient that we exist and provide affordable rehearsal space in a central location. For others, it's been about getting advice or having a sounding board, or even using the various props and furniture we have on site to create film and theatre sets, on-site or off. The important thing, as far as we're concerned, is that even people starting out in the different industries know that we won't think they're daft for asking a question. If we can help, we will, and have done ever since we started up. The difference, these days, is that we've also learnt a great deal from the process, and can share that increased knowledge with people if they wish.
Yes, but, really - what's the point?
Here it is in a nutshell: finding a drafty church hall or a high-priced studio isn't hard. Finding a community is a little harder. We're developing a space where people from the entire creative fabric of London can come to work, train, rehearse & meet... & ultimately work together to create projects that are significantly more than the sum of their parts. A space where people support each other. A space where you never know who you'll meet, you never know what idea you'll form or where it will take you. And the creative fabric? Think of it more as a trampoline than just a parachute.
Affordable rehearsal space
We have a fair range of productions that come here to rehearse. Some are fully commercial, others funded by bodies like the Arts Council, while others are either charity projects or completely unfunded productions. For this reason, we have a two tier pricing strategy: given our objectives, we feel it's only right that those with bigger budgets should contribute more than those who are starting out - we think of it as our Robin Hood pricing strategy.
Prices can start from as little as £40 per day (10am-6pm) for a small room to hold one-to-one auditions, or less than £70 per day to rehearse in a room with a playing area equivalent to, say, the stage of Arcola 2, the King's Head, Courtyard Theatre, Hen and Chickens or the Old Red Lion. We offer a 10% discount for a 3 week rehearsal run (15 sessions or more) passing along the cost saving of not needing to seek multiple bookings for that period straight back to you, and we're always ready, willing and able to explore alternative deals to keep the burden lower.
Affordable exhibition space
Perhaps surprisingly, given the building's artistic heritage, we didn't really set out to make the Rag Factory an exhibition space: it's not an area in which we were particularly well-versed, and felt we couldn't offer as much as other venues with properly qualified curators.
There's an extent to which that is still true: we don't pretend to be experts in fine art, but we are good at running a space, one of our co-founders has a background in engineering that has made the difference to a few installations over the years, while the other has a background in marketing that has also been of service to the groups and individuals choosing to exhibit their work in our galleries.
We now have so many exhibitions coming here that we have started an email list for people who would like to be kept informed of new shows taking place at the Rag Factory, which means we can provide a very practical means of helping people promote their show.
But we still try to keep our prices as low as we possibly can.
Affordable performance space
Becoming a performance venue in our own right was never something we actively considered but, once again, it has become something we've drifted into from time-to-time. Performance events here have ranged from theatre and dance to classical music and decidedly avant-garde promenade performances.
We don't have a public entertainment licence, but Temporary Event Notices (TENs) cost very little from our local council.
Performance is an area which excites us, but every project is very specific, so you really need to contact us if you'd like to explore the options.
The future of the Rag Factory
We didn't set up the Rag Factory because we were rich - we're not - or because somebody gave us a blank cheque to renovate the space - they didn't. Everything we've done to date has been out of operating revenue or the personal investment of the (still unpaid) founders, and we continue to make changes and improvements. While we've probably finished demolishing walls, we think there's still a couple we might build, and we regularly redecorate our spaces, not least because of the number of exhibitions coming through the buildings.
Ultimately, our future will be determined by the needs of the majority. We still don't feel we want to impose solutions on people if we can learn and make things better. Also, while the Rag Factory has been the brain-child of just 2 or 3 people to date, we're exploring the appointment of a board of trustees with expertise spanning the full range of art forms we host here (if you'd like to be involved in that, please do get in touch). It's an exciting time, and we look forward to making the journey with like-minded people.