Free Word literature centre loses London home

Free Word, the centre for literature, literacy and free expression, is leaving its London venue next month because the building it has leased since 2009 is being sold.

The six resident organisations Free Word hosts at the Clerkenwell building - English PEN, The Literary Consultancy, The Reading Agency, Arvon, Article 19 and Reporters Without Borders -  will also lose their building base. They all plan to continue, working mostly online.

“Free Word has been a creative home for some of the most exciting emerging writers, artists and activists over the years, with their work lovingly facilitated by an incredibly passionate and talented team” said Free Word’s chair Tim Duffy, founder of the advertising company M&C Saatchi. “Due to COVID-19 restrictions the past year has seen Free Word pivot to digital and non-venue based content; our ambition is to continue and develop this work in collaboration with our stakeholders and partners.”

Free Word, which is an Arts Council national portfolio organisation, was conceived as a venue and home for literature and freedom of expression by Ursula Owen, co-founder of Virago Press, in 2004. In 2007 Norwegian foundation Fritt Ord purchased the former newsroom and archive building of The Guardian newspaper on Farringdon Road for Free Word. In that time Free Word has hosted work from artists including Travis Alabanza, Liv Wynter, Michael Rosen, Lowkey, Zehra Doğan and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan from the space.

But Fritt Ord has confirmed that it is selling the building following a change of funding and investment priorities in the Fritt Ord Foundation.

Income generated from leasing office and event space within the venue supported Free Word’s artistic programming and venue management costs, and discussions are under way to limit job losses. “We continue to have positive discussions with Arts Council England about furthering our mission beyond the venue and will be sharing updates in due course” a spokesperson said.

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