Report by Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter
A popular cinema events company has been granted permission to hold three months of “immersive” outdoor film screenings on a Walthamstow sports ground this summer.
Despite receiving 138 objections, Waltham Forest Council’s licensing committee yesterday granted Secret Cinema’s application for events in Low Hall Sports Ground, in the St James area of Walthamstow.
The company plans to hold one outdoor screening every day of the week – except Mondays – from Tuesday 6th July until Sunday 12th September. Its website states it will be showing Dirty Dancing.
The events, for which attendees paying from £49-£89 per ticket, are expected to come dressed as characters from the film, will last from 6pm until 10.30pm, with alcohol for sale until 10pm.
Secret Cinema insists its customers are “well behaved” but residents fear disturbance and are angry about losing a large chunk of their nearest green space for most of the summer. Isla Johns implored the committee to consider the impact blocking off a large plot in the middle of the grounds would have on local people.
Isla said: “Secret Cinema would lead the sub committee to believe it will only use half of the site but its own plans clearly demonstrate it would make the space unusable for local children.
“A large number of children would have their activity and exercise space removed for the entire school summer holiday and almost all warm weather weekends either side.
“There are certainly reasons to support events in green spaces but this application deprives the community during the day in order to serve its premium client base at night.”
David Mammion, from Coppermill Swifts FC, noted the placement of the site will make most, if not all, of the ground’s football pitches unusable.
The community club, which has around 40 members at present, not only trains on these pitches but also uses them to provide training for local kids, both boys and girls, aged three to eleven.
David said: “Our last training session had 72 kids. We have outgrown our winter facilities and need to continue to use Low Hall fields.
“The council should be investing in Low Hall to allow projects like this to continue to grow and this area needs to be used through the summer.”
While Secret Cinema will only hold its events if lockdown rules permit, Sarah Eastwood argued that even legal events will expose the surrounding area to an increased Covid-19 risk.
She said: “The local population has a choice normally about whether we decide to attend high-risk places but these events take that choice away because they are coming to us.
“Secret Cinema is importing massive risks to our community, they will leave no positive legacy and they will hijack and damage our public land. They will make a profit and we, the community, will be paying the price.”
Other residents expressed concerns about light and noise pollution from the screening itself and disturbance from customers leaving the site at night.
Secret Cinema will not tell its customers exactly where the screening is being held, instead directing them to Lea Bridge Station and then chaperoning them to the event itself. They insist most customers will follow stewards back to this station when they leave but residents fear some will cut across residential streets to get to better-connected stations.
Applicant Rob Haworth told residents: “We completely understand we could be perceived as a big problem for the area over the summer and that’s the last thing we want.
“I’m not going to pretend there’s no impact from what we are proposing but I believe we can limit those impacts.
“Everything is facing away from residents and we designed the site specifically with our neighbours in mind.
“You are right that we do not have as much control over audiences when they leave the site but we will make the recommendation they go back to Lea Bridge Station and we do steward that route.
“I’m not going to guarantee nobody will make their way to any other station but the vast majority will follow the rules.”
He added that the company was still waiting to hear from the council’s parks team whether all football pitches would be displaced and would “work with” clubs and groups it pushed out.
Secret Cinema previously held events in Leyton’s Jubilee Park in 2018 and Rob claimed there were few complaints, adding: “Where we did have complaints, we went out and fixed them.”
Sarah Eastwood, however, contested this claim, telling the committee many residents had told her they were “very unhappy” with how their concerns were dealt with three years ago.
Rob also refused to answer a question from one resident about how much Secret Cinema had offered to pay the council for use of the site, claiming this was commercially sensitive information.
Residents were told that, during the day before each screening, the site would be used to hold a programme of events for local people and children, with a focus on employment.
Secret Cinema also plans to hold a free screening of a family-friendly film for people living nearby and will offer 1,500 free tickets to its other shows. The committee granted permission for the events but has decided Secret Cinema must hold monthly meetings with community groups to update them and address concerns.