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This week marks the 20th anniversary of the doors closing to the historic former Granada cinema in Walthamstow. This kick-started a decade-long grass-roots campaign, spearheaded by local people, in particular the McGuffin Film Society and Save Walthamstow Cinema, as well as many other supporters, to save the iconic building. Without them the building would have been lost.
And 10 years ago, the newly founded Waltham Forest Cinema Trust and Soho Theatre joined forces with the campaigners to create a new vision for the venue, and the decisive 2011-12 Public Inquiry concluded that this was viable and the venue should be preserved for its original purpose – entertainment.
Since then Waltham Forest Council and Soho Theatre have been working closely on the acquisition, restoration and refurbishment of this spectacular Grade II* listed building, ensuring that its special architectural features and historic interest are preserved. Firstly preserving the building, and secondly reinventing it for an even bigger and brighter future in the 21st century. It’s a far-sighted and ambitious project from all. Enormous thanks are due to Waltham Forest Council whose commitment and capital investment is creating a long-term return in culture, regeneration and new jobs, and is an important part of the legacy of their achievement in being the first London Borough of Culture in 2019.
Soho Theatre’s second space, Soho Theatre Walthamstow, will be a local theatre with a national profile, a glorious 1,000 seat venue with a year-round Soho Theatre-style programme of comedy, theatre and performance from around the UK and beyond. It will sit between the intimate spaces of Soho Theatre in Dean Street and the capital’s bigger arenas, giving audiences the perfect dedicated space to see world-class comedy at mid-scale, and filling an important gap in London’s thriving cultural landscape.
The building itself is a beautiful 1930s art-deco cine-variety space with an incredible music heritage – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, The Ronettes all played here. A passionate grassroots campaign to preserve the venue’s entertainment remit joined forces with Soho Theatre and Waltham Forest Council. 20 years of campaigning and planning, a new vision and a major capital investment from the Council will breathe new life into this important Grade II* listed building. When open, it will house a fully refurbished auditorium and new fly tower, together with studio and community spaces and media suite, with state-of-the-art facilities and access. The superb foyer space will be restored with a welcoming café open throughout the day; bars, food and an outside space open for evening audiences and attenders; plus, a late-night programme of DJs, music and cabaret.
Soho Theatre Walthamstow will be a welcoming, accessible and vibrant space for audiences from across London and beyond, and the venue will create new jobs and support regeneration and the late-night economy. It will be a social enterprise, Community Interest Company, rooted in its local community with discounts and priority booking for residents and businesses from across Waltham Forest, with a year-round community and engagement programme connecting with people of all ages. The highlight of the festive calendar will be our Soho Theatre signature panto. Tickets for our 2024 season will go on-sale in 2023, and some events will take place at the theatre later this year.
Mark Godfrey, Executive Director, Soho Theatre, and co-founder of Waltham Forest Cinema Trust said: “Soho Theatre Walthamstow is twenty years in the making and we couldn’t be more excited as we count down to the completion of the building works later this year, and a full programme from 2024. As we do this, we mark two important anniversaries and want to pay tribute to all the campaigners, the McGuffins, Save Walthamstow Cinema and others who worked so hard to save the venue when it originally closed its doors twenty years ago – without them we wouldn’t be here. And then ten years ago, to them and the local volunteers on the Waltham Forest Cinema Trust and elsewhere who helped to envisage a future for it and, with Waltham Forest Council, win the decisive Public Inquiry that determined it should retain its use as an entertainment venue for all. And of course, to the Council who brilliantly stepped in to safeguard the venue by purchasing it and taking on the real challenge of refurbishing it as a venue fit for the 21st century. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone when we open.”