Submitted by: Simon Munk
Antic London has announced that it is to buy the EMD or Granada cinema on Hoe Street from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), the current owners. Antic is a pub company that runs the Red Lion in Leytonstone and Leyton Technical, among others. This shocking news has sent ripples of excitement, hope and fear through Walthamstow’s community.
Why shocking? Because the council, Waltham Forest Cinema Trust and Soho Theatre had been moving forward with a plan to use a Compulsory Purchase Order if necessary to buy the currently shuttered building from the controversial church, who were refusing to sell (see below for the colourful history of the building and the fight to save it).
The news throws the Trust and Soho Theatre’s exciting plans for the Granada into confusion – and it remains to be seen whether or not Antic will work alongside Soho Theatre, the council and the Trust. Its vision for the historic and much-loved venue has yet to be revealed.
The Trust and Soho Theatre’s plans for the building included live comedy, music and theatre in the main auditorium, a three-screen independent cinema to complement the new nine-screen Empire next door, and a bar and restaurant. So clearly, Antic’s purchase could fit in with these plans well – but Antic may have something entirely different in mind.
Antic has said: “Plans are currently being pulled together to facilitate the required investment and we look forward to working with our partners, both old and new, to ensure a bright future for the EMD. It has lain fallow long enough and thus we shall lose no time in moving things forward.”
The news that the church is finally, voluntarily, selling is great for our community (see below on why). And it raises the prospect of an exciting tie-up with Soho Theatre, who said an initial meeting with Antic was: “positive and productive”.
MP Stella Creasy said: “I believe the residents of Walthamstow would love to see Antic working with the Waltham Forest Cinema Trust and Soho Theatre.”
However, Antic’s statement also raises questions. It implies the pub chain didn’t have its plans for this big and complex venue in place prior to purchase. And in saying the company is planning to “lose no time”, does that mean Antic intends to simply adapt the Soho Theatre plans and work with them, or open the building in stages?
Antic London also has a worrying recent record on stability – with the company losing The Chequers pub in Walthamstow not long after opening it, while related company Antic Limited went into administration in 2013 leaving unsecured creditors, including Revenue & Customs, £2.7m out of pocket.
Given the great love and commitment our community has shown for the building over the years, it’s to be hoped that Antic realises that it has only been able to buy the building because of the hard work put in by the community, council, Waltham Forest Cinema Trust and Soho Theatre over the years – and that it works with these bodies rather than against them.
Why shouldn’t the UCKG have the building?
There are many reasons why so many people in our community fought so hard and continue to do so, to retain the Granada as an entertainment venue.
Firstly, until the opening of the Empire next door, Waltham Forest was one of the only London boroughs without any cinema. With the closure of The Standard at Blackhorse Road, we also have little in the way of live entertainment space either. On the other hand, the borough has well over 100 places of worship – with several other large, evangelical Christian churches nearby.
On top of that, the Granada is not just any old fading cinema – its amazing interior and size represents a massive potential asset to the area – one that the council and planning inspectors agreed was best opened up to the widest community use possible, for the maximum regeneration potential.
Even with the Empire now in place next door, the Soho Theatre and Waltham Forest Cinema Trust plans have been recognised repeatedly as viable: the two venues would complement each other in bringing much-needed night-time economy to Walthamstow.
The Granada – A Brief History
1930 – The Granada, or EMD, on Hoe Street, opens on the site of an older cinema. Designed with Baroque and Moorish interiors by renowned Russian designer Theodore Komisarjevsky. The building is now heavily (Grade II*) listed.
Until 2000 – The building is steeped in history – the site may have been visited by Alfred Hitchcock, and the Granada played host to The Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Rolling Stones and many others.
2003 ‑ After the cinema is run into the ground, it is bought by the UCKG, a controversial evangelical church which owns the Rainbow in Finsbury Park. The church purchases without planning permission – and a fierce battle from the local community ensues to ensure its original intended use is retained.
During the church’s ownership of the shuttered building, there are numerous break-ins, two illegal raves, a fire and the collapse of part of the front canopy. The UCKG repeatedly attempts to gain planning permission to use the building as a place of worship. It is rebuffed by a council and Planning Inspectorate because of the local importance of the building.
2012/13 – The council agrees to use a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on the building if the UCKG won’t sell. And the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government rejects all UCKG planning appeals, as does the High Court.
July 2014 – The council agrees to back the Waltham Forest Cinema Trust and Soho Theatre in buying the cinema back.