EMD Cinema work begins

Work to refurbish a historic and much-loved cinema and theatre in the heart of Walthamstow got under way at the end of May.

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This year, the £2.8 million purchase of the building by Waltham Forest Council will create a lasting legacy for the borough’s year as the first Mayor’s London Borough of Culture, with the venue poised to reopen as a place for comedy and other entertainment.

The new venue will be managed by Soho Theatre, which has established itself as one of London's key venues for new theatre, comedy and cabaret and has many links with Waltham Forest, including working with schools and young people here. It will operate the 1,000 seat venue with a programme featuring the biggest names in UK and international comedy and an annual pantomime, alongside screenings, theatre and community education work.

The council is now looking for options to part finance the renovation of the building, including external heritage, arts and regeneration funders.

The emotions were running high on Tuesday 21 May when the main auditorium opened its doors once again, just for one day, to reveal the exciting plans for the Grade II* listed building – and show off the interior to a new generation of residents.

Gasps could be heard as people walked into the space, which had been cleared of the mess – and the pigeons – that had inhabited the space during the 15 years since the last film was screened in the main cinema.

Hidden away behind the building’s current occupant, Mirth, Marvel and Maud, is a beautiful theatre in the Moorish style by celebrated interior designer, Theodore Komisarjevsky. The proposed refurbishment will cost £17 million but it’s estimated that it will bring in between £34 and £52 million in the 10 years after it opens, boosting the local night time economy and providing jobs during the restoration and into the future once it opens to the public.

Cllr Clare Coghill, Leader of Waltham Forest Council, attended the open day. She 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.”