We’ve already secured funding from a number of grant-making trusts and the University has generously committed some of its own funds to the project, recognising the huge potential of our restored heritage theatre, to dramatically enhance our student employability, and become a Community Hub and force for good for underrepresented and disadvantaged communities wishing to access the arts.

However, in order for the project to proceed, the funding must be claimed in the current financial year. Essentially, to give the architects the green light, we must raise the remaining funds by the end of April 2022.

Why is this space of such importance?

From 1972 to 1990, the Soho Poly was London’s leading Fringe theatre venue. Located in the basement of the University of Westminster’s Riding House Street building, it was a radical pioneer of ‘lunchtime theatre’, dedicated to widening access to the arts. It gave voice to underrepresented writers and artists, particularly women and those from BAME communities. The theatre hosted an amazing company of playwrights and actors such as Adrian Shergold, Timberlake Wertenbaker, Caryl Churchill, Jamal Ali, Simon Callow and Bob Hoskins – who were just some of the artists who ‘cut their teeth’ in the theatre. Many BBC producers from the nearby Broadcasting House also commissioned works first showcased at the Soho Poly.

Leaving our premises in 1990, the Soho Poly morphed into today’s hugely successful Soho Theatre on Dean Street. Sadly, its former home, the much-loved basement, was left abandoned, despite being one of the very last existing spaces from the ‘Fringe boom’ and a site of considerable historical importance.

In 2012 it was rediscovered by playwright and Head of Creative Writing at the University, Dr Matt Morrison. He, and co-Creative Producer Guy Osborn, have now built on the University’s reputation for public engagement through a dynamic series of events including pop-up festivals, new plays, ‘Ghost Gigs’, poetry readings and exhibitions, and the launching of the Soho Poly Arts Club in 2020.

Following the success and impact of the events already hosted in the re-discovered space, we initiated our fundraising campaign in 2021. The funding will allow for a complete modernisation of the building – including disabled access and ensuring it meets current health and safety regulations.

The restored Soho Poly will create a vibrant community hub for inclusivity and wellbeing within the Regent Street and wider London area. It will offer community engagement and diverse programming to our partners and local schools and provide a contemporary performance and education venue for the London arts community. It will play a key role in the recovery of the Arts.

Artist render of redeveloped Soho Poly Theatre

We were delighted to be awarded funding of £88,300 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in April 2021 for our accompanying Soho Poly outreach project; Soho Poly Theatre: Inspiring Future Generations. This one-year community engagement project, led by Project Leads Matt Morrison and Guy Osborn, began in September 2021, and we are working with 90 schoolchildren from 3 partner schools and the older people’s charity Open Age. Here we are recording Oral Histories with 15 famous past playwrights and actors within the space and saving our intangible history for future generations. We are also co-creating a Radical Theatre Resources pack through workshops at our partner schools which will then be rolled out across 100 London partner schools within the themes of inclusivity, equity and diversity – and how to get ahead in the Creative Industries in Higher Education. 30 Westminster students will also deliver Memoir Life Writing workshops for 180 older people from the charity Open Age, to combat the effects of loneliness, isolation and the pandemic.

If we can secure capital funding this April – this will allow our Estates Department the necessary lead-in time to commence construction, and open the theatre by October 2022. We have already engaged architects and construction consultants and have fully costed designs and plans. There is much emotional investment from historic practitioners of the space including Hanif Kureishi, actors such as Simon Callow, the wider arts community and the public, and we now need the capital investment to bring this space back to life.

The restoration of the theatre will add considerable value to the University, which will be seen as a leader in the preservation of cultural heritage, and a pioneer of new cultural production. 

We will update you with news of the events we plan to hold this year to celebrate the Soho Poly’s 50th anniversary.

To discuss funding and recognition opportunities available for your support – and how you can become part of Performing Arts history, please contact us at: [email protected]

Or to support immediately, visit our appeal page here.