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Sat January 22 2022

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Willmott Dixon cleared to start £18m Walthamstow theatre refurb

8 Jun 20 Waltham Forest Council has given Willmott Dixon Interiors an £18m contract to restore an abandoned cinema and bring it back to life as an old-fashioned East End music hall.

Willmott Dixon Interiors and Pilbrow & Partners are turning the old EMD cinema into a Soho Theatre comedy hall
Willmott Dixon Interiors and Pilbrow & Partners are turning the old EMD cinema into a Soho Theatre comedy hall

Waltham Forest Council bought the old EMD cinema on Hoe Street in Walthamstow for £2.8m.  In partnership with Soho Theatre, it is transforming it into a 950-seat theatre for stand-up comedy, complete with bar and restaurant.

The council is working with Willmott Dixon Interiors and architect Pilbrow & Partners. Planning permission for the scheme was granted on 2nd June. The main refurbishment will begin immediately and is expected to complete in spring 2022.

The art deco Grade II* listed landmark in Walthamstow opened as the Granada cinema in 1930 and in its day saw performances from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Johnny Cash. It closed in in 2003 and has fallen to run since then.

Willmott Dixon Interiors used remote working technology to get the scheme through the planning process.  This included presenting to Waltham Forest’s virtual planning committee via a Microsoft Teams call that was livestreamed on YouTube for the public to watch. There were also presentations and Q&A sessions to statuary bodies like the Met Police, Historic England and The Twentieth Century Society via a webinar to ensure Covid-19 did not disrupt construction timescales for the cinema by delaying the planning process during the period of restricted movement.

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The project, which has an overall budget of £25m, follows similar schemes by Willmott Dixon to refurbish old theatres across the UK, including the Stockton Globe, Colston Hall in Bristol, Darlington Hippodrome, Octagon Theatre in Bolton and Eltham Cinema in Greenwich.

In Walthamstow, work will include reshaping the seating and stage to allow live performances with improved sightlines, while the ziggurat ceiling and the building’s frontage will be restored to its former 1930s glory.

Willmott Dixon Interiors managing director Graham Shaw said, “We are delighted to be involved in restoring this historic landmark that is part of Waltham Forest’s heritage so it can once again be a popular venue for people to visit as well as contributing important income to the local economy.  Our team has configured the site to meet the latest guideless to ensure it is Covid-19 secure so we can carry out the refurbishment safely during the current pandemic.”

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