The purchase of the former EMD Cinema - previously Granada Cinema - on Hoe Street, Walthamstow, comes a third into Waltham Forest’s year as the Mayor’s first ever London Borough of Culture.
The site is known for staging some of the biggest names in the industry, including The Beatles, Duke Ellington, Rolling Stones, The Who, James Brown, The Ronettes, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison. For one day only (21 May), it will open its doors once again for a series of behind-the-scenes public tours.
Restoring this iconic Art Deco venue is part of Waltham Forest Council’s wider commitment to place culture at the heart of communities across the borough. Since the opening event in January, Welcome to the Forest, there have been more than 100,000 audience engagements with the cultural programme, including thousands of children and young people who have directly participated in the making of key projects throughout the project so far.
Through the £550,000 Fellowship Funding, more than 125 community arts projects have
been supported across the borough, which includes the 13 announced this week as part of the Make It Happen programme.
The development of this site will be undertaken by Waltham Forest Council in partnership with Soho Theatre, who worked with the Council on the project in 2012 and created a vision for the venue’s future. Soho Theatre will operate the building as a new cultural venue for North East London. The 1000-seat rejuvenated venue will operate as a local theatre with a national profile, presenting the biggest names in comedy plus theatre, performance, music, pantomime and community and education programmes.
The building was purchased for £2.8million from owners EMD Walthamstow LLP. It is expected that the venue could add between £34 to £52million to the local economy over a ten-year period. The 1,000-seat venue dedicated to comedy will sit between the intimate spaces at Soho Theatre and the bigger arenas of London, making it a unique addition to London’s cultural landscape.
Renovation of the site is estimated to take around three years to complete, and initial plans suggest that events could be held on the site before the project is complete. A fund of £17million has been set aside for the work, which is expected to start in May 2020. The current businesses operating from the EMD Cinema will close when the renovation begins.
Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries, Justine Simons, said: “I am delighted that this historic venue is being restored to its former glory as a true local cultural gem. Creativity is in every corner of our city as the Mayor’s first London Borough of Culture Waltham Forest has shown. This wonderful renovation project with Soho Theatre creates a genuine legacy for the year and means that residents and visitors will enjoy the great culture of Waltham Forest well into the future”
Speaking about the project, Shappi Khorsandi, comedian and Soho Theatre Trustee, said: “After 20 years of running one of UK’s very best venues for comedy on Dean Street, this next step for Soho Theatre taking shape is amazing. I’ve performed in the borough many times over the years. I’m so excited to see this historic Waltham Forest building be given a new lease of life. The ambition is to create the finest theatre for comedy in the UK sitting between London’s more intimate spaces and the bigger arenas – which is brilliant news for performers and audiences.”
Waltham Forest Council Leader, Cllr Clare Coghill said: “Our residents feel such an enormous sense of pride being the first London Borough of Culture. Throughout the year, I’ve witnessed the transformative power of culture to bond our communities and celebrate our identity. As a Council, we are committed to continuing using culture as a catalyst for the future, in our regeneration programmes, our schools and to support our makers and creators. The development of this magnificent old cinema embodies all these aspirations. I hope this venue, which inspired a young Alfred Hitchcock, will once again bring laughter, joy, and pleasure to audiences. And who knows – perhaps the makers, radicals, and creative superstars of tomorrow will be among the new generations to be inspired to create something amazing by this breath-taking venue.”
Also announced this week as part of the longer-term plans to build on Waltham Forest’s London Borough of Culture year is a £250,000 investment into schools to create new permanent artworks, a new Welcome to the Forest bursary programme to support the next generation of creatives in borough and an ongoing commitment to continue the 850-person strong Legends of the Forest volunteer programme.
Jon Morgan, Director of the Theatre’s Trust said: “The venue has been our Theatres at Risk Register since 2015 so we are delighted to see real progress being made to return this theatre to community us. We have been working with both the new owner London Borough of Waltham Forest and the new operator Soho Theatre offering advice on architecture, the economic impact and how to make the venture successful. We thoroughly commend the London Borough of Waltham Forest for recognising the positive impact the restored theatre will have on the local area and its economy.”