Last night, I was extremely proud to be part of my community.
For those who don’t know, Waltham Forest is one of only two London Boroughs without a cinema (the other being Lewisham, I believe). We had a lovely cinema up to 8 years ago. A beautiful art deco building where the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had played gigs and where Hitchcock had seen films as a boy. It is a Grade II Listed Building and the last remaining British cinema with its original Christie organ in situ.
However, in 2003, the then EMD owned cinema was in rather a state of disrepair, seemed to have restrictions on films able to be shown, was starting to smell rather heavily of wee and was therefore not as well-frequented (a bit like the Rose & Crown before that got taken over!). So, it was sold, to the United Church for the Kingdom of God.
Over the years, we have been told various tales of how the building is unsuitable to be re-opened as a cinema, but this has been challenged at every stage of the way. For the past 8 years, UCKG have petitioned to change the building use to a place of worship. Plans have even claimed to use the building as ‘a community meeting place’ with an apparent ability to show films. Are the majority of local people going to go to church to watch The Fast & The Furious 5?
So, 18th May was a huge day for local residents, as it was Decision Day -the planning committee of local councillors was due to hear the arguments from both sides at a public meeting at the Town Hall and reject or accept the planning application from UCKG.
Being a proud member of the E17 ‘Awesomestow’ Twitterati, I had been really happy that so many of us were empassioned by the plight of the cinema, and arranged to meet up to show our support on the night.
When I got there though, there were even more familiar faces than I was expecting – I saw friends I know from the pub, members of my Book Club, neighbours, and even teachers from The Girl’s school. Being able to mill around, mix in different circles and just recognise familiar faces in a huge crowd made me feel so ‘belonging’.
And there really was a huge crowd. But from both sides.
With the meeting originally taking place in the Town Hall, the plan was to meet on the Town Hall steps. However, the veune was changed, and the meeting took place in the nearby Assembly Rooms. this meant that the ‘Cinema crowd’ were outside the Town Hall, and the UCKG were outside the Assembly Rooms. And as they had generally had to come from further afield, they had a large crowd very early, which felt quite intimidating. Our lot WALKED from home generally and arrived in dribs and drabs, slowly forming a HUGE crowd of support, which was incredible.
But of course, when the doors were opened, all the UCKG were already there, and got in first. The hall takes over 1,000 people, but we were still left with about 2-300 people (guesstimate) outside, along with a couple of bagpipers, shouting our support through the windows to those within the meeting. Luckily, the social bar just outside the building opened and helped fuel our morale as we were there for over TWO HOURS chanting, singing, waiting for the decision, and checking our phones and Twitter feeds to find out what was going on inside.
And the result was unanimous – 7-0 to reject the planning application. It was a fantastic result for all involved (from our side of course!) and puts us one step closer to getting our cinema back.
After chanting “Save Our Cinema” for two hours, it was nice to chant “We’ve SAVED our cinema” and then the police moved in to hold us back as the UCKG people came out.Obviously they all had long journeys back home, buses to catch etc and so we were quite happy to shout”We live HERE, where d’YOU live?” for a while – at which point some of them seemed to want to have a dance-off.
Perhaps the greatest moment of the night was about 1,000 people waving “Byeeeeeeeee, cheerio, safe journey…” as they made their way home, and we all went to the pub.
Of course, UCKG still own the building, but there has been a Trust set up to try to raise the money needed to buy it back and refurbish AND the UCKG are extremely guilty of letting a listed building fall into a disgusting state of disrepair. It has had illegal raves, has been flooded, has been boarded up and covered in scaffolding for years and they have done NOTHING to look after it.
And they must now know how opposed people are locally to yet another church (I believe we have over 230 already!!).
So, the first skirmish has been won – and now the battle proper shall commence.
- BBC News Article
- Fantastic article from The Scoop – with videos! (one of which I am in…)
- Waltham Forest Guardian live feed from last night
- Waltham Forest Guardian article – UCKG defiant
- Save Walthamstow Cinema
- Waltham Forest Cinema Trust
- Some interesting reading about UCKG (I didn’t know this when I made this post originally)
And – last but not least, my favourite response from the UCKG