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The development won the New London Awards 2020 Conserving Unbuilt Prize, a category for the restoration of buildings, across any sector, where efficient use is made of existing fabric and embodied energy.
Soho Theatre Walthamstow is the official title of the 950-seat venue on Hoe Street, previously the EMD and Granada cinemas. It is scheduled to reopen in early 2023 after a £30m redevelopment.
Waltham Forest Council acquired the building in 2019 to ensure it remained an entertainment venue and cultural hub for the community, while bringing economic, social, and environmental benefits to Waltham Forest residents and local businesses.
The council are working in partnership with Soho Theatre, a London-based theatre company with a national profile, who will operate the venue and present the biggest names in comedy and performance.
The new venue will be a high-profile, high-quality cultural offer in the borough, offering:
The £30m investment into the venue’s revival is part of the council’s London Borough of Culture 2019 legacy commitment to place culture at the heart of its communities. The venue will help boost the local evening and night-time economy and support our existing businesses and residents.
Soho Theatre’s wide-ranging programme will be announced in late 2022 and the venue will mark its opening in a series of community-focused events before Soho’s official opening in 2023. Over the past decade, Soho Theatre has established strong connections with many schools, youth, and other community groups across the borough. Its community outreach work in Walthamstow is being overseen by Jessica Draper, Soho Theatre’s Head of Creative Engagement.
The council consulted extensively with local residents, businesses, and community groups in developing the plans for the venue, which respect the heritage and design of the much-loved art deco building.
The council is working with developer Willmott Dixon Interiors and Bond Bryan Architects Ltd. Refurbishment works are ongoing and expected to finish in early 2023. Those working on site are doing so under revised health and safety protocols that comply with government guidance around Covid-19 and with advice from the Construction Leadership Council.
Soho Theatre are a charity and social enterprise who built their famed West End venue more than 20 years ago. They are now one of London’s busiest theatres showing award-winning theatre, comedy and cabaret. They identify and nurture new talent as well as working with big names, and also run education, participation, and talent development for people of all ages.
The former Granada/EMD will be their second venue, joining Dean Street in central London.
Soho’s vision for the new venue reimagines cine-variety for the 21st century. As a local theatre with a national profile, it will be rooted in its community while attracting audiences and media attention from across London and the UK.
The Grade II listed building was built in 1930 as a 2,697-seat cinema, The Granada, during the height of the cinema boom of the 1930s.
There have been films shown on the site as early as 1896 and the current building was known for being frequented by Alfred Hitchcock. It was often used as a concert venue, hosting the biggest names of the day such as The Beatles, Dusty Springfield, The Who, The Duke Ellington Band, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, John Coltrane, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly.
Between 1989 and 2000, the venue changed ownership several times before being sold to textile business owner Mohan Sharma, who named it the EMD Cinema supposedly from the initials of his three daughters.
In 2003, ownership of the former Granada changed hands and the venue (then operating as the EMD) closed its doors to the public. At the time of its closure, it was the only cinema to have an original, working Christie organ still in place where it was originally installed.
While the new owners sought permission to convert it into a church, local residents, businesses, and politicians campaigned hard to preserve its heritage and continued use for what it was famous for – entertainment. Local groups such as the McGuffin Film Society and Save Walthamstow Cinema led a passionate and popular campaign with more than 1,000 people attending the planning meetings and nearly every local business lending their support.
The council engaged consultants to help identify options for the building – a glorious venue but built for a former age. The Waltham Forest Cinema Trust was founded in 2010 and working with Soho Theatre came forward with an inspiring new vision respecting the building’s heritage and reinventing its future.
In 2012, the council, Waltham Forest Cinema Trust, Soho Theatre and local campaigners won the decisive public inquiry which agreed that the former Granada/EMD should have a future as an entertainment venue.
In 2014, the building was sold and a small part of it reopened as Mirth, Marvel and Maud, once again allowing people to enjoy the incredible interiors and atmosphere of the foyer. At the same time, the council and Soho Theatre worked on its longevity. Architects, heritage consultants and funders were consulted on how the theatre could reopen and have the sustainable future it deserved.
In 2018, the council announced funding for the purchase and an agreement with Soho Theatre to operate it. At the time of purchase, the building was in a derelict and decaying state and on Historic England’s Register of ‘Buildings at Risk in London’. Restoration work is now underway with the building’s best interests at heart and plans to see it return as a modern, sustainable, and exciting entertainment venue that honours its rich history.
It’s been a long journey, but the future of the iconic venue is finally looking even brighter than its illustrious past. It will be the standout legacy project from the 2019 London Borough of Culture; and it will become the finest venue for comedy in the UK and a whole lot more.
1887 The Victoria Music Hall opens on Hoe Street to host dances, concerts, and theatrical performances.
1907 The building is converted into the area’s first dedicated cinema.
1930 The site is completely redeveloped and reopens as The Granada. Today it is a rare surviving example of the flamboyant work of the Granada Group and their famed architect, Cecil Aubrey Masey, and interior designer, Theodore Komisarjevsky.
1963 The Beatles perform on stage.
1968 The cinema changes ownership several times, finally becoming the EMD.
2003 The EMD is sold. Local resident groups campaign to see the building’s continued use as an entertainment venue.
2013 The decisive public planning inquiry rules in favour of the building as a viable entertainment venue.
2014 The building is sold to a private developer who re-opens a section of the building as Mirth, Marvel and Maud.
2018 The council and Soho Theatre develop their plans to acquire, refurbish and run the venue as a new and exciting cultural hub.
2019 The council and Soho Theatre announce that the building is back in public ownership and will be a legacy project of the London Borough of Culture.
2023 After four more years of planning and working with local people, Soho Theatre reopens the building as a local theatre with a national profile.