The Albany has played a vital role for the people of Deptford for over 100 years. It was originally established in 1894 as the Deptford Fund by a group of philanthropically minded people. The Fund's founders wanted to improve the plight of Deptford's community, many of whom suffered from poverty and deprivation and the adverse effects of unemployment as a result of the closure of the docks in 1869.
The Deptford Fund provided financial support for local charitable enterprises, but within a few years decided to fund its own projects within a purpose built centre. In 1898 the foundation stone of the Albany Institute was laid and in 1899 the building, on the corner of Lamerton Street, Albury Street and Creek Road, was officially opened by its patron, the Duchess of Albany.
After the war the Albany Institute continued much of its pre-war activities, with clubs and outings for mothers and grandparents. But it was in 1966 with the appointment of director Paul Curno that the institute’s fortunes were transformed. He gave Albany Institute a new lease of life, focusing on social issues of importance to local people.
It was under the enlightened direction of Paul Curno that the Combination, a touring fringe theatre group became resident at the Albany in the early 1970s. This was the beginning of a fusion between community work and the arts that still informs the Albany today.
One of the many campaigns that the Albany supported in the 1970s was Rock Against Racism (RAR), a national anti-racism campaign, which brought black and white musicians together in a series of concerts across the country. It was during the Albany's support of RAR, in July 1978, that the Albany Empire, the name the Combination had given to the Albany's theatre, was burnt down. The fire has subsequently been attributed to an arson attack by a group opposed to the Albany’s support of RAR and its wider commitment to cultural diversity.
Irrespective of the damage caused by the fire to the Albany Empire in 1978, the staff and board of the Albany had long been planning and fundraising for a new building, accessible and specifically designed to fulfil the needs of a modern Deptford community.
At the end of the 1970s Prince Charles laid the foundation stone in Douglas Way for a purpose built centre. The old building was demolished to make way for road widening and in 1982 the new Albany was officially opened by its new patron, Diana, Princess of Wales.
During the 1980's the Albany Empire, became firmly established as one of the foremost community theatres in Europe, programming a culturally diverse mix of theatre, music and comedy. Many household names played some of their first gigs there - including Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, Julian Clary, Courtney Pine and the Jazz Warriors. In addition the Albany was home to many arts and welfare projects including Second Wave, Albany Video, Basement Youth Theatre, a children and parents centre, Community Print Shop and the Pensioners Link Heating Project.
Cuts in public funding over the following decade hit the Albany hard and the fabric of the building began to show the signs of lack of investment. Fortunately, this was halted by the take over of the building by the Art of Regeneration, a project run by the education department of the Royal National Theatre in 2001 . The four years of the project's residency revitalised the building and resulted in the refurbishment of the theatre and digital facilities.
The Board of Trustees of the Albany appointed a new Chief Executive, Gavin Barlow, in 2003 and the Albany once more began to develop its own arts programme. The venue has been forging a reputation for presenting an accessible programme of theatre, spoken word, music, comedy, dance and circus by both established and emerging companies. The Albany is a place where the street meets the mainstream and the diverse communities of London can find their artistic voice.