Old school fun at Walthamstow Trades Hall

The people behind the 101-year-old Walthamstow Trades Hall social club write about their triumphant return after a rollercoaster year…

President John Lawrence and granddaughter Lacey, who works as admin and behind the bar (Credit: Dean Belcher)

A bit like the Tardis, the 1970s time capsule that is Walthamstow Trades Hall, Hoe Street, seems bigger once you step foot inside. Boasting a capacious dancehall with a sprung dance floor, an intimate upstairs bar and a meeting room for hire – its evocative interior has made it a location scout’s go-to setting for East London authenticity. 

2020 and 2021 have presented huge challenges for clubs and venues everywhere and the pressures on the Trades – founded just over a century ago as The Walthamstow Society of Amalgamated Engineers, now a vibrant social club for all – have been considerable. 

From the outside, things may have seemed quiet, but behind closed doors a huge effort has gone into completing vital structural repairs and maintenance. Burst pipes (ruining a refurbished upstairs bar), a new boiler and replacing damaged furniture were just a few of the issues to tackle. 

Club president (since 2018) and 40-year member John Lawrence says of the challenges: “Our members really love this club and the fact that it’s a fun, safe environment, but half the battle of running a successful club is keeping on top of everything. 

“We are lucky that so many members are willing to help out whenever something needs doing. You can’t just live in the past – you have to adapt or you go under. 

“Obviously, the worry among the older, established members when you try and change things is that you’re trying to force them out. That couldn’t be further from the truth – we’re trying to ensure that everyone can feel part of the club. We have all ages of people in the club and want to make sure we’re welcoming to everyone.” 

It seems to be working. In February 2021, the local community rallied behind a GoFundMe page, to raise £6,100 to help keep the club afloat and repair the damage. 

Inside the Trades Hall (Credit: Paul Tucker)
Vice President Julia Spicer and Club Secretary Abby-Lee Widger (Credit: Dean Belcher)

And in April, it was announced that the Trades Hall’s bid to Arts Council England had been successful – granting an incredible £80,000 through the Cultural Recovery Fund. 

Club Secretary Abby-Lee Widger explains: “During the pandemic, we had major works on the building, which if we’d been trading as normal last year we’d have been able to afford. 

“Around a third of this funding will go towards replenishing our reserves, giving us the secure platform we need to trade. It means the club has a base from which to relaunch all the music and performance events we run for our members and the wider public.” 

The management team at the Trades is led by women, and is redefining the role of working men’s clubs for the 21st century – as cultural centres for local communities, especially communities that are under threat from gentrification. 

Long-standing members and bingo/ dancefloor stalwarts Eileen Smith, now 90, and Brenda Shearing, 80, say they “cannot wait” to be back inside the club they love. 

And Vice President Julia Spicer agrees: “It’s fantastic that we’ll be able to continue to provide local residents and the wider community, with low-cost music experiences and much, much more.” 

If Covid guidelines allow, the coming months promise to be fantastic entertainment – with a number of popular acts already booked in. Look out for The Bikini Beach Band, Captain’s Beard, George Michael and Elvis tributes, and The Electric Landladies – to name but a few. 

Expect regular appearances by popular local DJs, and fresh from The Victoria pub, C’n’N Karaoke and It’s Her Factory nights. And who can forget the Rock and Roll Book Club, or our favourite lodger Red Imp Comedy Club? 

Everyone is welcome to our events, as they’re open to the public – members just get discounted tickets. Though we should add that not every night is a party: the Trades is also a great place for enjoying life’s simple pleasures: board games, darts, perhaps even a quiet drink over a newspaper… 

To find out about upcoming events, visit Walthamstow Trades Hall