Echo Echo move into prestigious new home on Derry’s walls

Company Manager Ailbe Beirne and Development Officer Anna Nolan in Echo Echo's lovingly restored reception area in Waterloo House. (DER3113JB078)
Company Manager Ailbe Beirne and Development Officer Anna Nolan in Echo Echo's lovingly restored reception area in Waterloo House. (DER3113JB078)

Derry’s award-winning Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company can now boast one of the city’s most exclusive addresses - with their stunning new HQ one of only four buildings with a door opening directly onto the city’s 400 year-old walls.

Hard work, passion and determination has ensured Echo Echo’s pivotal position on the local - and international - dance theatre scene over the years.

And their reputation for quality, innovative dance theatre continues to soar.

However, the search for a base eventually bore fruit and the company recently settled into their new home within the fully restored Waterloo House.

But where is Waterloo House? Quite simply, it’s the grand old building situated on the lower-Magazine Street area of the walls known for centuries as Hangman’s Bastion.

Ailbe Beirne, Company Manager of Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company was delighted to take me on a grand tour of the new premises.

“It really is an unusual address as our front entrance is actually on Hangman’s Bastion,” Ailbe explained. “The building is over 100 years old and was originally Irvine’s Printworks. Over the years it has also been Oscar’s Nightclub and Restaurant, offices and a job-training centre! But it is indeed one of only four buildings with a door directly onto the city’s walls. That’s us, the Verbal Arts Centre and the Millennium Forum, three cultural buildings and then a restaurant on Foyle Street opens onto the walls too.”

Recalling the process of securing Waterloo House, Ailbe says: “We started this project about five years ago, and this was actually one of the first buildings we ever looked at - but it was only available to buy back then, so we kept looking and fundraising.”

“Eventually we had looked at 25 buildings and came back here and, by then, the landlord was willing to let it to us. So we received funding from the City of Culture Capital Fund, supported by Ilex, and once the main grant and lease was in place, everything else fell into place. So for instance, the Heritage Lottery Fund funded restoration works on the outside of the building on Waterloo Street [opposite Gweedore Bar] as part of their Townscape Heritage Renewal Scheme.”

Other key funders who came on board for equipment were the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the London-based Wolfson Foundation - who rarely give grants outside of England. “We really were fortunate to get their support,” he says. Other capital funders included Ulster Garden Villages and the DOE Restoration Fund, as well as a lot of help and advice on heritage from the Walled City Partnership.

“As you can see now, this building met the criteria. We have audience space, a store, technical space, a green room, lobby space for the audience, and of course we have spectacular views of the city, out to Donegal hills and up to St Eugene’s Cathedral. You couldn’t have a more creative space looking down upon the city like that,” Ailbe enthuses.

As we spoke, I marvelled at the commanding view of the entire Strand Road from the tall windows of Echo Echo’s new dance space.

The company has three full-time staff, Ailbe as Company Manager, Artistic Director Steve Batts and Development Officer Anna Nolan. Then there is the Echo Echo ensemble of six dancers responsible for a lot of their education and outreach work, as well as developing new work.

“We are also recruiting shortly for a new full-time post of Technical Manager and we’ve been really fortunate to receive full funding for that from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for a three years post. They’d be responsible for managing the building and the technical side of things, maybe going on tour and working on some of our international programme too. It’s an amazing job for someone to have.”

Having settled into their new abode, Echo Echo are now eager to continue their Culture-inspired work for 2013. The Motion Ensemble project, which is on right now, is an international ensemble of dancers and musicians working with a local ensemble here, so that’s daily dance performances around the city every day,” Ailbe says. Following that, they’ll present the ‘Without’ film project, which will be seven 22 minute films recorded from the city walls and from St Columb’s Cathedral tower last April. “That’s going to be incredible, with over 500 local people involved,” he said.

“The third big project is our Dance Festival in November, the first dance and movement festival in Northern Ireland, and we’re hoping to continue that annually. But from 2014 onwards, we will again be refocusing on the smaller, more intimate events that have made us a success today.”