When I was growing up, a popular refuge/meeting place/night out was the cinema that lived on Hoe Street in Walthamstow. It started off as a Granada, before becoming in short order a Cannon, an ABC and finally an EMD. It was a home from home during some of the toughest years of my adolescence, a place where I could be myself.
It helped that it was a proper, booming DecoGothic pile of a place, with a double-tongued swoop of a staircase up to the mezzanine level, and famous red and gold Moorish architecture, the work of Theodore ‘Komis’ Komisarjevsky, the man credited with bringing Chekhovian theatre to England. It was a palace of dreams and nightmares, a place where I fell in love with the films of John Carpenter, American wine gums and, for a while at least, a girl called Tracy Gilbert.
In 2003, after a disastrous stint as a Bollywood-only cinema, it was bought at twice market price by the controversial United Church of The Kingdom of God. They immediately shut it and declared their intention to turn it into a church. This move, which rendered the London Borough of Waltham Forest the only one in London without a working cinema, provoked an immediate and ferocious backlash, which spiralled up from a bunch of passionate local activists to the attention of the deputy Prime Minister at the time. The campaign worked. The cinema remained, unusable as a church, with owners unwilling to reinstate it to it’s former glory.
This year, the church reapplied for permission to retask the building. They have clearly been doing some work behind the scenes, as there are prominent members of Waltham Forest Council backing their scheme.
Fortunately, the original group of protesters, the McGuffins, have not been quiet either. Over the past few months they have been making it clear exactly what is at stake, and what Walthamstow will lose if the UCKG get their way. There is an enormous groundswell of opinion that it makes huge financial and cultural sense to restore this beautiful grade II* listed building to it’s original purpose, and get people watching films in Walthamstow again. Alfred Hitchcock used the cinema as a kid, and if it’s good enough for him…
So. To action. Waltham Forest Council are taking objections to the UCKG’s scheme until this Friday the 25th September, which is shockingly short notice, I know, but to my shame I only found out about the plans today, and then purely by chance. The time to act, unfortunately, is now.
Got all that. Get to it, then. Walthamstow needs you.