The London borough that was once home to David Beckham and Damon Albarn is to rebrand itself in an effort to lose its “best-kept secret” reputation.
Experts found that economic development in Waltham Forest was being hampered by the fact that “relatively few people have heard of it or its attractiveness”.
The council is set to adopt a series of recommendations to help the borough “stand out” beyond its status as a property hot-spot. Prices rose 26 per cent in the year to May – the highest in London.
This week the council agreed to help the Soho Theatre purchase the derelict EMD cinema, where the Beatles and Rolling Stones once performed, and turn it into a 1,000-seat cinema and arts venue.
This will be only the second cinema in the borough – the first, a nine-screen Empire multiplex, opens in Walthamstow on November 20.
An independent commission headed by Tony Travers of the London School of Economics said Waltham Forest had to create its own identity. At present, it is less well known than its four town centres – Walthamstow, Leyton, Leytonstone and Chingford. Beckham was born in Leytonstone while Albarn grew up there.
Mr Travers said it was vital to improve the quality of the four main high streets and provide a better night-time economy. “We believe there is a need for efforts to promote the benefits of the borough to those who, if they knew more about the area, might invest in the borough or chose to live there.”
Hundreds of residents have backed a campaign to return the Grade II*-listed EMD to use. See here for my previous reports.
The council funding will help Soho Theatre to pursue a negotiated sale with the building owners, United Church of the Kingdom of God. If negotiations fail, the council will serve a compulsory purchase order on the church.
Council leader Chris Robbins said: “Residents have told us that they want the EMD open as an entertainment venue again and we’re committed to helping to make that happen.
“It will bring a wonderful building back into use and form part of our wider plans for regenerating the town centre.”
Mark Godfrey and Steve Marmion, directors of Soho Theatre, said: “We’re not there yet but this is a really important step forward. In an area of London with limited cultural provision, it will become one of the capital’s finest venues.”