Restoration of historic EMD Cinema in Waltham Forest central to the long-term legacy of Mayor’s first-ever London Borough of Culture

21 May 2019
EMD, formerly the Granada
  • Members of the public are going behind-the-scenes of a historic Grade II listed venue that closed its door in 2003 ahead of £17m restoration
  • Waltham Forest Council and Soho Theatre have teamed up to secure the future of the former EMD cinema (previously Granada Walthamstow) which will operate a new local theatre with a national profile as part of the legacy of Waltham Forest’s year as the first London Borough of Culture
  • Also announced this week were the 13 new community arts projects made possible through Make It Happen Fellowship Funding, alongside 15 new artist commissions for local schools and a new Welcome to the Forest bursary scheme to support emerging creatives in 2020 and beyond.

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. You can find more information on this page.

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 take 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, 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.”

A brief history of the Granada cinema

1887 The Victoria music hall opens in Hoe Street, Walthamstow, to host dances, concerts and theatrical performances

1896 The first film is screened at the venue

1907 The building is converted into the area’s first dedicated cinema

1930 The site is completely redeveloped and reopens at the Granada cinema, holding 2,700 people. The exterior is designed by Cecil Masey, with the ornate interior decoration by Theodore Komisarjevsky. It features a Christie organ which is played before screenings

1963 The Beatles perform on stage. The last live performance in the main auditorium would take place in 1973

1968 The stalls area at the bottom of the cinema is closed. Two smaller screens are eventually added downstairs

1989-2000 The cinema changes ownership several times, finally becoming the EMD

2003 The EMD closes its doors, to be bought by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which plans to turn the site into a church. During the years it is left empty, the interior and the famous Christie organ fall into disrepair, Local resident groups campaign to see the building’s continued use as an entertainment venue.

2012 The Council are presented with a vision of the building’s future from Waltham Forest Cinema Trust and Soho Theatre

2013 A decisive public planning inquiry decides that the building could be a viable entertainment venue

2014 The Church sells the building, which includes the Victoria pub and attached shop, to Downing LLP. The bar and one of the small screen cinemas open as Mirth, Marvel and Maud

2019 Waltham Forest council announces it has purchased the former EMD Cinema (previously Granada Cinema.) It will work in partnership with Soho Theatre to renovate the building and create a new and exciting destination entertainment venue in the heart of Walthamstow.

See a gallery of images from the wonderful EMD throughout its fascinating history by clicking here