Located in the north-eastern fringes of London, Walthamstow is noteworthy on two fronts. It has the longest street market in Europe, a kilometre stretch of stalls described by Wikipedia as “downmarket and unique“. It is also the end of the line for the London Underground’s Victoria line and hence a place where passengers may occasionally end up after falling asleep on the way to more salubrious locations.
Things may be looking up though for the ‘Stow. If Soho Theatre has their way, a former Granada picturehouse could soon be converted into a 1,000-seat suburban outpost serving up comedy, theatre, and cinema screenings.
It won’t be cheap or easy. Figures being thrown around suggest that the project will need around £8 million to convert the grade-II* listed building into its final form.
The current owners, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God have been trying to secure planning permission to change the venue into a church with zero success for over a decade. Will the UCKG see the light and hand over the keys to the denizens of Dean Street?
Given how determined the local authority is to move them along, the church may not have a choice in the matter. Waltham Forest Council has already agreed to subsidise Soho Theatre’s purchase with public money from its rapidly shrinking capital programme.
At a recent cabinet meeting, councillors voted to contribute money to help the theatre company buy the former Granada cinema in Walthamstow and renovate it. If the UCKG refuse to sell, the council will provide cash towards completing a compulsory purchase order which will see the eventual eviction of the present occupiers after up to two years.
Mark Godfrey and Steve Marmion, directors of Soho Theatre, are understandably appreciative of the council’s financial support, saying that it was a “really important step forward”.
“We are delighted to be working with Waltham Forest Council in this way. We want to thank them and the building’s dedicated supporters within the local community who have worked so hard to get us all to this point,” they went on to say.
UCKG have declined to comment.
Image: Ewan Munro
Hmm. Having grown up in nearby Chingford and spent almost my entire life within a short distance of Walthamstow, I know this building very well. As a boy and as a teenager, I used to visit it as a cinema, long before it became a bingo hall.
This building has always had potential, but Walthamstow as a whole has never been exactly trendy. With sufficient investment, the building could be made into a decent enough venue, but who will travel there in sufficient numbers to make it viable?
For me, the Victoria pub next door, with it’s quite sizeable upstairs function room, has more obvious use as an out-of-town cabaret venue which would be quite capable of satisfying local cabaret needs, and ought to bring in sufficient to support itself from the proceeds.
I’ve a feeling this is yet another example of a financially inept council being talked into schemes it can’t afford and will forever have to subsidise, using local people’s money to swell the coffers of a non-local business, on the pretext of supporting the arts.
Looks to me like a misjudgement on size of auditorium. The ‘best’ venue in the E17 neighbourhood is the Rose and Crowne theatre pub which often struggles to fill 70 seats even with a loyal following and a good reputation for well-staged work. If this site could be re-worked to, say, a 400 seat auditorium made out of the old cinema stalls and two studios cut from the circle floor: one cabaret room, one studio theatre, it might better serve its catchment are and London as a whole which is desperate for theatres in the 200-500 seat bracket.