Work begins on refurbishment of 950-seat art deco cinema in east London

L-R: Mark Godfrey, executive director, Soho Theatre; Martin Esom, chief executive, London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF); Cllr Grace Williams, Leader of LBWF; David Luff, creative director, Soho Theatre; Simon Miller, portfolio lead, economic prosperity, LBWF.

Willmott Dixon Interiors has commenced the next phase in the restoration of a landmark art deco-inspired former Granada/ EMD Cinema in Walthamstow, on behalf of Waltham Forest Council.

The contractor has begun refurbishment works at the Grade II* former Granada/EMD Cinema in Hoe Street, as part of an £25.6 million project to restore the building into a 950-seat multi-purpose entertainment venue, with a bar and restaurant.

The intricate refurbishment will include reshaping the seating and stage to allow live performances with improved sightlines, while original features including the ziggurat ceiling and the building’s frontage will be restored to their former glory.

First opened as the Granada cinema in 1930, the venue was known as “Walthamstow’s wonder theatre” and in its heyday saw performances from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield and Johnny Cash. It became derelict after closing almost two decades ago, and was placed on the 2015 ‘Buildings at Risk’ register by the Theatre Trust.

Waltham Forest Council won planning permission for the restoration project in June 2020. Willmott Dixon Interiors has since carried out enabling works in preparation for the refurbishment project, including foundation strengthening, site security and site accommodation, as well as structural surveys and asbestos clearance.

Soho Theatre is expected to reopen the new facility to the public in 2022.

Graham Shaw said: “This is a beautiful heritage building that now has an exciting new future. We’re looking forward to delivering a modern, nationally-recognised entertainment venue that honours the building’s unique history and once again provides a popular destination for people to visit. It has the potential to create many new jobs and make an important contribution to the local economy.”

Cllr Simon Miller, Member for Economic Growth and Housing Development, said: “Here in Waltham Forest our number one priority is economic recovery and connecting people with jobs so I am thrilled with the Council’s partnership with Willmott Dixon and their exceptional social values programme. This incredible transformation of the former Granada/EMD Cinema is already delivering benefits to the community, as we knew it would and is a key cultural led regeneration project for the high street and entire borough. I applaud Willmott Dixon Interiors for their achievements so far, and cannot wait to see what community benefits this exciting project will bring next year before its grand opening in early 2023.”

Willmott Dixon Interiors has recorded a Social Return on Investment (SROI) of more than £2.3 million by providing skills and employment opportunities for local disadvantaged people during the early stages of the project.

The contractor has partnered with Jobcentre Plus to launch the Building Lives Academy, a pop-up skills centre to help connect local people with construction jobs. A cohort of seven jobseekers have benefited from more than 500 hours of provision, representing a £53,000 investment, with a further 14 local people being employed for the duration of the project, two of whom were formerly long-term unemployed.

Willmott Dixon Interiors also invested more than £200,000 in virtual work experience sessions for 32 young women, covering topics including mental health, personal branding and emotional intelligence.

The restoration of the former Granada/ EMD Cinema is being delivered by Willmott Dixon Interiors and a project team including Bond Bryan Architects and Aecom as quantity surveyors. It was procured via the Procurement Hub framework.

The project further extends Willmott Dixon Interiors’ track-record for transforming iconic heritage buildings into entertainment buildings. The company has previously completed refurbishment projects at other Grade II* properties across the UK, including Stockton Globe, Colston Hall in Bristol, Darlington Hippodrome, Octagon Theatre in Bolton and Eltham Cinema in Greenwich.