Streatham Hill Theatre: neglected treasure added to ‘at risk’ register

theatre interior

Streatham Hill Theatre – one of South London’s finest yet most neglected architectural treasures – has been added to Save Britain’s Heritage (SAVE) buildings at risk register.

The listing comes as David Harewood MBE and Jools Holland OBE, were announced as new patrons of The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre.

SAVE’s buildings at risk register 2022 highlights historic buildings whose future is uncertain and which it wishes to see returned to use with a secure future.

The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre campaign to find a sustainable future for the building and to promote its use as an arts and culture venue.

Other patrons of the campaign include local resident Baroness Floella Benjamin, Samira Ahmed and Sir Mark Rylance.

University of Westminster broadcast journalism students have published an online documentary featuring Sherwood star and campaign patron Robert Glenister and others and recounting the history of the theatre, its importance, and the campaign to save it.

David Harvey, chair of The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre, said: “These developments demonstrate yet more recognition for the majestic Streatham Hill Theatre, its historic importance, and the breadth and depth of support in the community for the building to be rejuvenated for a future in arts and culture.”

Jools Holland said: “The prospect of bringing back to life a theatre in South London with a stage the equivalent size of the Palladium, is very exciting.

“My friend the late Chris Barber and his jazz band played there in the fifties, and it would be so wonderful to see the Streatham Hill Theatre filled with all kinds of music once again.

“I’m delighted to add my support to this important campaign to save it.”

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Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre vision of the future for the theatre

Cllr Donatus Anyanwu, Lambeth council cabinet member for stronger communities, leisure and sport, said the addition of the theatre to the register was a “significant step” in the ongoing efforts to protect “this hidden gem”.

“Together with the Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre, Lambeth council is committed to doing all we can to celebrate its rich history and safeguard its future,” he said.

“The campaign has captured everyone’s imagination in Streatham and beyond, and to have so many talented artists, actors and musicians backing the cause shows the strength of feeling for this historic venue.”

“The stunning Streatham Hill Theatre has enormous potential to be restored to its former glory, and used once again as a centre for the arts and creativity.

Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE, said: “With dazzlingly opulent interiors, this exceptional 1920s theatre is an important part of London’s rich cultural history.

“Remarkably little altered since it opened, it is well-suited to being brought back into use as a performance venue.

“SAVE Britain’s Heritage is today adding it to our buildings at risk register as the theatre has lain largely disused for some time and is highly vulnerable to redevelopment.

“Fortunately, The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre have a vision to bring the theatre back into use for the community. SAVE wholeheartedly supports their initiative.”

Donna Harris, Liberal Democrat councillor for Streatham Hill West and Thornton, said the council should do everything possible to support The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre to ensure that the site continues to be designated as an asset of community value past its current end-date of July 2023, and to attract funding for the project.

Preserving and renovating the theatre for future generations would draw more people to Streatham and help to reinvent “Europe’s longest high street,” she said.

Claire Appleby, architecture adviser to the Theatres Trust, said that since the trust added Streatham Hill Theatre to its theatres at risk register in 2017, it had been working with the Friends group and others to find a viable long-term use for the unique theatre.

“We are delighted to see that support for this cause is growing and we hope that Streatham Hill Theatre can be restored, reopened and returned to use as a 

theatre interior

Streatham Hill Theatre opened in 1929 and is a Grade II listed building with a capacity of nearly 3,000.

It was the last project of the renowned West End theatre architect W G R Sprague.

After a direct V1 flying bomb hit in 1944, it closed until 1950 and entertained visitors for another 12 years, before being used for bingo from 1962 to 2017. 

In 2019, after a flashmob of more than 1,000 people demonstrated huge local support, Lambeth council turned down an appeal by the theatre’s owners against its designation as an asset of community value.

In November last year, Historic England added Streatham Hill Theatre to its national Heritage at Risk Register of most valued historic places and those most at risk of being lost.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said at the time: “I hope others will join me in supporting this remarkable building being transformed into an inclusive, cultural space that will serve the local community for years to come.”

The building is currently only partially in use as a small slot machine lounge, by leaseholders, Merkur Casino UK.

In May this year the Friends learnt that the freehold has been sold to new owners. They have heard verbally from one of the new owners and are expecting further dialogue in the coming months.

The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre is a volunteer-run organisation with around 1,200 members and associates, supported by the Mayor of London, Lambeth council and The Theatres Trust. In February last year it gained CIO charity status.