Popular LGBT venue could return when theatre re-opens, reports James Cracknell
There are hopes that one of the borough’s most loved entertainment venues will be able to return to its spiritual home following the redevelopment of Walthamstow’s EMD/Granada Theatre.
Fears were raised that The Victoria, a launchpad for many successful drag artists, would struggle to keep its clientele after being forced to leave Hoe Street this summer. But Waltham Forest Council is now working with the pub’s owners to negotiate a return to a new venue within the theatre complex once its refurbishment is complete.
The council bought the site one year ago and has since been developing plans to re-open it as a 1,000-seat comedy and entertainment venue run by Soho Theatre. The Victoria occupies an upstairs bar above the entrance, but will have to vacate when restoration begins.
Roger Todd has worked as a barman there for several years and told the Echo: “It has become a centre for the LGBT community, it is where they feel safe. If The Victoria was to go, you would throw away something that has taken decades to build. It has been known as an LGBT venue for eleven years.”
The pub’s owner, Allan Spelling, is optimistic. “The council have been very fair to us,” he said. “We are hoping they can relocate us while the work is done and then we will be able to come back.”
Roger thinks The Victoria could be a perfect partner for Soho Theatre. He added: “It is fantastic the theatre is being saved and the plans they have got are exciting. I think we would be complementary to what Soho is doing. You can imagine people coming here to perform and then a couple of years later they could be on the big stage with Soho.”
Mirth, Marvel and Maud, a pub that had occupied the foyer space of the Grade 2-listed theatre for the past four years, has now closed its doors ahead of its restoration. However, The Victoria is expected to stay open for another six months.
A council spokesperson said: “The building is currently in very poor condition and requires significant investment. Modernisation is required now to ensure it is sustainable as a fit-for-purpose venue.
“The council has offered to work with The Victoria to help find an alternative venue, including potential relocation into one of the units in the redeveloped theatre. Soho Theatre’s programme has always included work specifically created by and for the LGBT community.”
Built by Cecil Masey in 1930, the Granada initially hosted ciné-variety before becoming a live music venue for the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in the 1960s. Last month the council confirmed the budget for restoring the main auditorium, derelict for two decades, had risen from £17million to £25m. Surveys revealed significant structural problems, including residual asbestos, the “integrity and safety” of internal ornate plaster, a leaky roof, and corrosion to concealed steelwork. To help pay the cost the council has made grant bids to the Greater London Authority and Heritage Lottery Fund.