News Walthamstow

Walthamstow Empire to reopen in the summer as new operator steps in

Waltham Forest Council today confirmed that the Empire will reopen as Forest Cinemas after a new operator agreed a 25-year lease on the site, reports Marco Marcelline

The Scene building in Walthamstow which houses the old Empire cinema, Credit: Waltham Forest Council. Inset image credit: Esther Simpson

The borough is set to get its only cinema back after Waltham Forest Council confirmed an operator has agreed to take over the closed Empire Walthamstow.

The Empire abruptly shut in July when its owner collapsed into administration.

Announcing the news this evening, the council said PDJ Cinemas agreed a 25-year lease on the site, with Forest Cinemas due to open in the summer.

The Empire’s former upstairs VIP lounge area will be turned into an Alfred Hitchcock themed-bar that will be accessible by lift. Cinema equipment including damaged screens will be replaced with “state-of-the-art laser digital equipment” over the next few months, the council has said.

The price-list for the cinema will be confirmed “closer to opening”, council leader Grace Williams wrote in her weekly residents newsletter, though she added there will be discounts for children, seniors and families. 

Meanwhile, a film programme mixing Hollywood hits with international and independent flicks is promised.

PDJ operates four cinemas in the UK, including Romford’s Premiere cinema, which offers a flat rate of £3.50 for tickets.

In December, the Midlands-based family-run operator struck a similar deal to reopen a closed cinema in Wolverhampton with double the number of screens that the original cinema had.

Meanwhile, shortly before Christmas PDJ commenced work to renovate a shuttered Empire Cinema in Birmingham. 

When the Empire shut in July, its 27 employees were made redundant with immediate effect. At the time, distraught workers told the Echo that they lost their jobs without any prior notice. 

Underscoring the shock nature of the closure, the company had been hiring for new team members in Walthamstow the week before it shut.

Five staff who were made redundant pose outside Empire Walthamstow on the day it shut

In September, the cinema came under the spotlight again after squatters broke into the empty building and held an illegal rave.

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Speaking shortly before he was turfed out by council enforcement officers, squatter Enzo Gomes told the Echo how he had gained access to the cinema through a back entrance.

It is understood that the council has been in talks with a range of commercial operators since summer last year.

In October last year, a group of local cinema enthusiasts backed away from a potential collaboration with the Prince Charles Cinema to open a mixed-use independent cinema at the site because of the high cost of fixing the damage done by squatters.

Announcing the re-opening, Cllr Williams said: “Walthamstow was once the centre of the British silent film industry, and our borough has a long-running connection with the silver screen, from Leytonstone’s Alfred Hitchcock to ex-Walthamstow School for Girls pupil Naomi Ackie, who recently played Whitney Houston in the biopic of the singer. Waltham Forest is a place for film fans and so we knew we needed to keep a cinema here in the borough. 

“I am thrilled that we have been able to secure such a great new operator for the former Empire so quickly. PDJ has exciting plans for Forest Cinemas – I know our residents can’t wait to see the big screen back in our borough once again.”

PDJ Cinema director James Jervis said: “We’re thrilled to breathe new life into the cinema at the Scene in Walthamstow, soon to be known as Forest Cinemas. This momentous occasion extends beyond just reopening doors; we’re reigniting a love for storytelling that captivates, challenges, and most importantly, entertains. 

We cannot wait to welcome back the community in Walthamstow, with our plans to show films from Hollywood blockbusters to independent arts films and international, foreign language hits.

Everyone at PDJ, and those at the council we have been working with, are extremely excited to start rolling the films for all movie goers as we bring back cinema to Waltham Forest.”

Meanwhile, a second cinema could be coming back to the borough amid developer plans to turn an historic cinema in Highams Park into a part two, part six storey building containing 33 one and two-bed flats, a two-screen cinema and a cafe bar. 

Formerly the Regal Cinema, Mammoth Capital plan to “retain” and “restore” the Hale End Road building’s historical art-deco front facade.

A full planning application is set to be reviewed by the council later this year.

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