Walthamstow Secret Cinema postponed until summer 2022

The controversial screenings, which were due to take place at Low Hall Sports Ground, have now been cancelled. Local Democracy Reporter Victoria Munro reports

Low Hall Recreation Ground and, inset, plans for the site submitted by Secret Cinema
Low Hall and, inset, plans for the site originally submitted by Secret Cinema

An open-air cinema operator has cancelled plans to use a Walthamstow sports ground this summer, citing “ongoing uncertainty around the hosting of mass gatherings” due to Covid-19.

Waltham Forest Council gave Secret Cinema planning and licensing permission to hold screenings at Low Hall Sports Ground in Walthamstow from July until September, despite residents’ fury at losing their green space.

The planning application to build an enormous set at the sports ground – granted on 31st March to cries of “shame on you” from one objector – has now been withdrawn.

The company announced on 7th May that it was postponing its immersive screenings of Dirty Dancing, for which tickets ranged from £49 to £89, until next summer.

Secret Cinema CEO Max Alexander said: “With ongoing uncertainty around the hosting of mass gatherings, and the lack of Covid-19 cancellation insurance, we have taken the tough decision to postpone Secret Cinema Presents Dirty Dancing to Summer 2022.

“It’s heartbreaking to have to postpone the opening of Kellerman’s by another year and we understand this will come as a huge disappointment to Secret Cinema fans.

“We are contacting all customers who have tickets booked for the July-August 2021 run to provide them with the option of coming to the new dates or to receive a full refund.”

Responding to the news on Twitter, Jack Bernhardt wrote: “The dreadful Secret Cinema project that was going to destroy (my dog’s) favourite park and kill a lot of wildlife in the Walthamstow area has been POSTPONED to next year, so that’s good news.”

While campaigning group Low Hall Fields tweeted: “It’s clear @wfcouncil underestimated the strength of the Low Hall community. Hundreds of us stand united ready for the next time they want to privatise our precious green space. #LowHallForAll.”

Secret Cinema planned to use the space from 5th July until 12th September this year, putting 10 football pitches out of action and occupying a large area in the middle of the grounds.

At the planning meeting in March, objector Lara Pawson told the committee: “Waltham Forest is among the most deprived areas in the country when it comes to access to green space.

“In summer, this space is brimming with sports players, dog walkers, picnickers, readers and even golfers.”

John Mannion, from Coppermill Swifts FC, a community sports initiative which he said “cannot operate without Low Hall”, also implored councillors to reject the plans.

He said: “You do not seriously want me to tell kids, most of whose parents do not have cars, that because the field they normally walk to is closed off for a private event, they can no longer play with their mates.”

He urged Secret Cinema to “go to another larger area that can sustain a site as large as yours”, adding: “You have the choice to go elsewhere, we do not.”

However, committee members who voted for the plans considered that cultural offerings were also important to post-lockdown life.

Chairwoman Cllr Jenny Gray said: “We do need cultural activities. Everyone has been locked up for so long, I think people would actually like to go out and have some fun.”

Waltham Forest Council have been contacted for comment.