Granada Theatre

Former ciné-variety theatre with a richly decorated and atmospheric auditorium, in the only London borough without a permanent theatre. There is significant local community and council support for a return to theatre use.

Auditorium of Walthamstow Granada with its intricate plasterwork
Address
186 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, Waltham Forest, London, E17 4QH
Risk Rating
6 (Community Value: 3, Star Rating: 2, Risk Factor: 1)
Architect
Cecil Aubrey Masey
Date of Construction
1930
Listing
Grade II*
Capacity
1,000

Significance

The Granada was built in 1930 by architect Cecil Masey with interior decoration by Theodore Komisarjevsky. It operated as a ciné-variety theatre, later becoming a live music venue hosting the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and it then became a cinema. It is now Grade II* listed. In the main auditorium, the richly decorated proscenium arch and gilded decorated wall grilles are reminiscent of details from the Palace at Cordoba, overlaid with seventeenth-century Baroque features. The Hall of Mirrors lobby and part of the auditorium were stylishly redecorated to their original splendour in 1995, and the central kiosk in the foyer was designed to match.

Why is this theatre at risk?

Walthamstow Granada has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2015.

The Granada’s auditorium was subdivided into three screens in 1973 in a scheme that left the front stalls area unused. Cinema closed in 2003 and the main body of the building has been vacant and deteriorating ever since.

After cinema closed the building was bought by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) who planned to turn it into a church. However strong local opposition including that of the Waltham Forest Cinema Trust and from Soho Theatre helped prevent the proposed change of use. These groups and Waltham Forest Council joined together on a decisive public planning inquiry in 2012 / 13 which saw UCKG’s planning application to turn the venue into a community centre and church refused. The decision hinged on whether or not the building had potential viability as an entertainment venue, and it was considered that it had.

In 2014, a decade after the building closed, pub group Antic London backed by Downing LLP acquired the freehold of the building re-purposing the foyer spaces as a bar and utilising one of the small cinema screens as a small-scale entertainment space. However, the main auditorium and stage areas remained vacant and in an increasing state of disrepair. It was feared that should action not be taken the venue would be lost permanently for live performance use.

In March 2019 Waltham Forest Council announced its intention to purchase, restore and reopen the historic building and to work with operator Soho Theatre to bring the venue back to life as a ‘local theatre with a national profile’. The purchase was completed in May 2019.

The council has appointed Willmott Dixon as a construction partner. Enabling works have now been completed and the main contract commenced with work due to complete in winter 2022.

Magenta, teal and white arabesque detailing around the exit door at the back left of the auditorium of Walthamstow GranadaTheatre potential

The proof of viability of the Granada as a theatre was a key determining factor in the 2012 / 13 public inquiry and the subsequent decision not to allow the church’s desired change of use to a community centre.

There has been long-term, widespread support among local residents and businesses for the Granada to return to entertainment use and to give Waltham Forest the major permanent theatre that it currently lacks. Waltham Forest Council has also long been supportive of a scheme to see the Granada restored as part of the regeneration of Walthamstow. In 2017 it was successful in an expression of interest to the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund, which allocated £50,000 towards developing a scheme concept.

In February 2018 Waltham Forest was announced as the first London Borough of Culture. Two weeks later, the council announced its intentions to purchase the Granada and to work with Soho Theatre to restore and reopen the theatre. The council report outlining the ambition to purchase the Granada estimated that, once renovated, the site could add between £34m and £52m to the local economy over a 10-year period.

Soho Theatre’s role as an operating partner providing a sustainable and viable programme of events has been crucial in seeing the project progress. The plan is to open with a programme of live comedy, music and theatre, an annual Walthamstow panto, one-off film events, and streaming of major cultural and sporting events within the theatre. The plans also include education and community projects for local residents.

Current situation

At a Cabinet meeting on 17 January 2019, Waltham Forest Council approved the terms for the acquisition of the freehold and a construction budget for the total refurbishment costs of the Granada. Heads of terms were also agreed with Soho Theatre for the lease and operation of the venue. The purchase was completed in May 2019. The cabinet confirmed its commitment to delivering the project on 9 July 2020, referencing the important role that the new venue will have in supporting economic recovery post-Covid, and regenerating the local and night-time economy in Walthamstow Town Centre.

In 2020 Soho Theatre Company was awarded a Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme grant of £9,500 to support business and operations planning work for the Granada. Theatres Trust has been working with both Soho Theatre and the council, supporting their joint vision for the building and providing advice on capital works, business planning and funding.

The council and Soho Theatre are financing the restoration of the project. The council has received some assistance from the Mayor’s Energy Efficiency Fund and Historic England’s Buildings at Risk Repairs Grant. In 2021 Waltham Forest Council was awarded a grant of £230,000 from Historic England to restore the front façade of the Granada. Work includes rebuilding the curved gable above the entrance, which was taken down in the 1950s, and works to the metal windows. 

Planning and listed building consent was granted in June 2020. Theatres Trust wrote in support of the application.

While the future of the Granada is looking positive, at this stage in the building works, Theatres Trust considers it prudent to retain the building on the Theatres at Risk Register.

Update March 2022

Waltham Forest Council and Soho Theatre have announced that when the Granada reopens in 2023 it will be called Soho Theatre Walthamstow. The council is working with developer Willmott Dixon and Bond Bryan Architects Ltd and refurbishment works are ongoing. 

Main photo Granada Theatre, Mike Fox. Interior, Ian Grundy, 2020.