09 February 2023

The University’s successful two-year long fundraising effort worth £400,000 include generous grants from the Garfield Weston FoundationWestminster City Council and Derwent.

From 1972-1990, the Soho Poly was a theatre of national importance. Located in the basement of the University’s Riding House Street building, it was the leading innovator of the so called lunchtime theatre, dedicated to widening democratic access to the arts. It was also instrumental in giving voice to female, LGTBQ+ and BAME theatre-makers including Timberlake Wertenbaker, Caryl Churchill, Simon Callow and Hanif Kureishi. 

In 1990 the Soho Poly left the premises and morphed into the Soho Theatre on Dean Street. Its original home was left abandoned, and the success of the new theatre eclipsed its earlier, more radical history. 

In 2012 the Soho Poly space was rediscovered by Dr Matthew Morrison, playwright and Head of Creative Writing at the University. Since then he, and Co-Creative Producer Guy Osborn, Professor in the Westminster Law School, have hosted a dynamic series of events in the venue including pop-up festivals, new plays, Ghost Gigs, poetry readings and exhibitions, and the launch of the Soho Poly Arts Club in 2020. 

A grant of £88,300 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund has enabled the University to develop and deliver outreach activities to build new audiences and increase engagement, especially with young people and isolated older people. 

Following the success and impact of these events, a project began to fully restore and renovate the theatre to its former glory. As the theatre was neglected for so long, urgent work is needed to address repairs to the fabric. The project is completely replacing the hazardous rickety wooden stairs to the basement. A platform lift from the ground floor to the theatre is being installed, and sagging brickwork and timbers are being corrected. 

The theatre is being transformed into a warm, welcoming and fully accessible space which meets current health and safety regulations. Building works for this final stage of the venue’s regeneration began in December 2022, and are expected to complete in April 2023.

Redevelopment work at the Soho Poly

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 the University’s partners and local schools, and it will provide the University’s students and the London arts community with a new performance and education space. The venue will play a key role in the post-COVID recovery of the arts in London. 

Jordan Scammell, Head of Development and Fundraising at the University said: “It is fantastic to see our vision for the Soho Poly now materialising in the basement of Little Titchfield Street campus. Four weeks in and the space already looks drastically different. 
“We could not have got here without the commitment of the University and the loyalty and commitment of our supporters. What has been a bit of a hidden gem for over three decades, will soon be ready to share with the world once again!”

Dr Matthew Morrison said: “We can’t wait to reopen the Soho Poly! After years of planning, our vision to bring arts and culture into the heart of both University life and our local community is about to become a reality.”

Find out more about restoring the Soho Poly.