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Developer: Arts centre on site of old ABC Cinema ‘will help, not hinder, struggling Dalston venues’

PUBLISHED: 11:05 15 June 2017 | UPDATED: 11:05 15 June 2017

The Art Deco theatre is now derelict but Auro hopes to change that.

The Art Deco theatre is now derelict but Auro hopes to change that.

Archant

Major plans to redevelop the old ABC Cinema in Stoke Newington Road will go before councillors on Tuesday – with developers insisting it will be good for Dalston’s struggling arts venues.

The derelict cinema in September 1984. Picture: Amir Dotan The derelict cinema in September 1984. Picture: Amir Dotan

As revealed by the Gazette in April, Auro Foxcroft, the owner of Shoreditch’s Village Underground, wants to transform the “hidden Art Deco gem” into the Hackney Arts Centre.

The picturehouse, which first opened as the Savoy in 1936, closed in 1984 and has since been split into individual premises. The multi-million pound project would bring it back under one roof hosting film, theatre and music – with 350 acts a year promised.

The application says the venue will be modelled on Camden’s Roundhouse, and will also have a “significant education and creativity element focusing on young people and the local community”.

If signed off, the move would cast serious doubt over the future of current occupants Epic, Efes Snooker Club and the Turkish Islamic Association.

The newly built Savoy in 1936. Picture: Amir Dotan The newly built Savoy in 1936. Picture: Amir Dotan

And neighbours also say the venue would threaten two cultural institutions; the Rio Cinema and Arcola Theatre, which are both within spitting distance.

To that, a report by consultants Make, on behalf of the developers, suggests otherwise.

The firm said: “Additional cultural investment will reinforce the outstanding but limited (and small scale) arts destinations in Dalston, such as Café Oto, the Rio cinema, Vortex jazz club and Arcola Theatre.

“However, Dalston needs more ‘flagship’ and ‘anchor’ venues and services (such as the impressive CLR James Library) to add weight and gravitas to the network of small venues, creating ‘cultural critical mass’.”

Inside the ABC Cinema in 1982. Picture: Amir Dotan Inside the ABC Cinema in 1982. Picture: Amir Dotan

The application also argues the project will provide a “defining foothold” for the future of performing arts in London, which it says is “under siege”.

It reads: “London has lost half of its music venues in seven years, the rate of closures rising exponentially. Grassroots cultural spaces and affordable artist studios have fared no better.

“As the creative life is marginalised to the city’s outer limits, the soul of London is being decisively hollowed out.”

The attempt to reassure neighbours doesn’t seem to have worked, though.

Auro Foxcroft, night czar Amy Lame and Hcakney mayor Phil Glanville. Picture: Uyen Luu Auro Foxcroft, night czar Amy Lame and Hcakney mayor Phil Glanville. Picture: Uyen Luu

One said: “There are two underfunded community arts projects within minutes of the site: the Rio and Arcola.

“These spaces make an effort to engage with the community. This new space will take trade and resources away from them and almost certainly lead to them closing down if the project is a success.”

Another added: “This seems absurd as it would be in direct competition to the valuable assets of Arcola and Rio, in the cultural narrative of smaller venues closing; Dance Tunnel, Plastic People, the highly contentious Centerprise case and Dalston Curve Garden being threatened with closure.

“I urge you [Hackney Council] as a local authority to stop operating with such a commercial agenda and protect, preserve, nurture what little assets we have left, before Dalston turns into every other homogenised neighbourhood in London.”

Some neighbours, as well as police, have also taken issue with the prospect of another licensed venue in the area.

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