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Hackney Arts Centre: Gazette steps inside derelict Art Deco cinema in Stoke Newington ahead of renovation

PUBLISHED: 17:57 16 February 2018 | UPDATED: 11:04 21 February 2018

The former Savoy and ABC cinema in Stoke Newington Road, which closed in 1984. Picture: Polly Hancock

The former Savoy and ABC cinema in Stoke Newington Road, which closed in 1984. Picture: Polly Hancock

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When Auro Foxcroft first walked into forgotten Art Deco gem the Savoy Cinema two years ago it was covered in pigeon poo, cobwebs and piles of junk.

Auro Foxcroft, founder and director of Village Underground, inside the former Savoy/ABC Cinema auditorium. Picture: Polly HancockAuro Foxcroft, founder and director of Village Underground, inside the former Savoy/ABC Cinema auditorium. Picture: Polly Hancock

This morning the founder of Shoreditch’s Village Underground invited the Gazette on a tour of his new Stoke Newington Road venue – which is now minus the junk, if not the poo.

“I was instantly saying: ‘It’s got to happen’,” he says of that fateful visit. “We originally just wanted to take this room, but the guys at Efes said we’d have to buy their bar too. Then the landlord said you need to take Epic.”

“This room” is the old circle area of what was from 1936 to 1961 the Savoy, and later the ABC, the Konak and Ace.

The circle of the former Savoy/ABC Cinema. Picture: Polly HancockThe circle of the former Savoy/ABC Cinema. Picture: Polly Hancock

It closed in 1984 and had been left largely untouched until Auro and his team got to work on transforming it into the Hackney Arts Centre – scheduled to open in September.

Pool bar Efes, which is in the old foyer to the theatre’s circle seating, will form part of the development, as will the Epic function room, which was the old stalls to the 2,500 capacity cinema. Epic has a false ceiling created at the bottom of the circle, splitting the old venue in half.

“I have been using Wilton Music Hall [in Whitechapel] as an example of where it’s going,” he says. “We want to keep it in this raw setting.”

James Salmon, investment diector for Big Issue Investments, and Auro Foxcroft, founder and director of Village Underground, outside the old ABC Cinema. Picture: Polly HancockJames Salmon, investment diector for Big Issue Investments, and Auro Foxcroft, founder and director of Village Underground, outside the old ABC Cinema. Picture: Polly Hancock

The plan is for the venue to remain split up. Downstairs (Epic) will have mostly music and cultural events, Efes will become a cafe and bar area and the upstairs will be used for a range of arts activities – theatre, dance, music, film, talks and debates.

As reported by the Gazette this week, the £3million project is being backed by Big Issue Invest, The Arts Impact Fund and Triodos Bank. They have awarded Village Underground £1.9million to deliver community programmes to 400 hard-to-reach youngsters through charity Community Music.

“The stuff Auro has in his head is really exciting,” said James Salmon, investment director at the Big Issue. “We see its potential as a standard bearer for how socially conscious arts and music operators can give back to the community.

Auro Foxcroft, founder and director of Village Underground, on the roof of the former Savoy/ABC Cinema. Picture: Polly HancockAuro Foxcroft, founder and director of Village Underground, on the roof of the former Savoy/ABC Cinema. Picture: Polly Hancock

“The aspiration is that the Community Music projects will be the anchor of the community work, and lots of things will grow from there – attracting community organisations and charities. We see this as a home for people to come and use our facilities.”

There remains a lot of work to be done in the disused upstairs theatre, which has been home to pigeons for 30-odd years.

“There was garbage everywhere when we came in,” said Auro. “There was an entire shipping container filled with pigeon s***. We’ve got 600 on the roof now.”

The ceiling of the circle at the former Savoy/ABC Cinema. Picture: Polly HancockThe ceiling of the circle at the former Savoy/ABC Cinema. Picture: Polly Hancock

This week there have been hundreds of humans in the Epic part of the building watching XL Records owner Richard Russell launch his album Everything is Recorded. Musicians Sampha and Ibeyi, who appear on the record, have performed, while guests can also get a glimpse of the old theatre where a special installation from Toby Ziegler is taking place.

Auro, who also allowed the Gazette to check out the old projection room, added: “Everyone who has been coming in here says: ‘“Oh s**t, I didn’t know this was here’,”

They soon will.

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