News Walthamstow

Soho Theatre Walthamstow to ‘soft launch’ in November

Both the expected benefit and cost of opening the theatre have increased by millions since plans were first made

(Credit: Waltham Forest Council)

Work on Soho Theatre Walthamstow is expected to finish in autumn this year, followed by a formal launch in February.

A range of “soft launch” events aimed at the community will take place from November this year to January next year, before the formal opening of the theatre brings the start of the official programme of events.

The opening will mark the long-awaited end of a project that has taken at least five years since the first business case was drawn up by Waltham Forest Council in 2017. Since then, both the expected economic benefit and the cost of refurbishing the old EMD cinema have increased by millions of pounds.

In 2017, the council expected the theatre to boost the local economy by anywhere from £34m to £52m in its first decade of operation. However, more recent estimates now place its initial “economic impact” between £46m to £61m.

While this boost comes as good news, especially as the theatre is the core of the council’s vision for Walthamstow to become a “cultural quarter”, it has unfortunately not matched the increase in the project’s cost over the same period, which has risen from £19.95m to £30m. 

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A report prepared for council leaders this week explained this cost increase is partly due to issues discovered in the building during construction, including “asbestos, heritage-related matters and structural issues”. Furthermore, “market conditions for the construction sector remain challenging” due to inflation and the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit, while “several sub-contractors working on the project have gone into administration”.

Responding to a request for comment, co-deputy leader of the council Ahsan Khan conceded the “increased economic benefit is not proportional to the increase of the project cost” but insisted it “still represents value for money”.

However, the recent report stated that the decision to invest in restoring the listed building “has formed the foundation for a clear direction of travel for the borough”, which will entail using “culture and creativity” to “deliver economic growth, jobs, local area improvements and improved quality of life for residents”.

It also credits the investment with helping to attract the University of Portsmouth to open a branch in the borough, Waltham Forest’s first ever university campus, and £17m from the government’s Levelling Up Fund.

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