18 August 2022

The grant comes from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), a charge applied to developers to help fund local infrastructure, meaning the project can now go ahead. It needed to raise £400,000 for the work.

The Soho Poly first opened in 1972 in the basement of the University of Westminster’s campus on Riding House Street, in the West End. It became a leader in radical ‘lunchtime theatre’ and quickly established itself as a leading fringe venue attracting some of Britain’s most talented actors, writers, and directors, including Barrie Keefe, who penned the British gangster classic The Long Good Friday.

It also helped to launch the careers of Hanif Kureishi, Simon Callow, Bob Hoskins, and Caryl Churchill among many others.

The venue was closed in 1990 and spent the next few decades falling into disrepair. In March, a series of small events were run to mark its 50th year anniversary.

Since then, plans have started to be put in place to restore the venue and reopen it as a centre for radical and diverse productions.

Jordan Scammell, Head of Development and Fundraising at the University of Westminster, said: “We are delighted to have been granted £50,000 Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funding from Westminster City Council, via the Fitzwest Neighbourhood Forum, towards the capital restoration of our Soho Poly performing arts space.

“Recognised for being a leader for radical ‘lunchtime theatre’ throughout the 70s and 80s, the theatre was dedicated to widening democratic access to the arts and gave voice to underrepresented talent.

“With the funding we’ve received, we are now in the position to restore the space and instal disabled access, ensuring a vibrant, inclusive, and accessible performance venue that will once again provide underrepresented groups the opportunity to visit, and indeed perform in.

“The original model of lunchtime theatre will also be extended across the day under the ethos ‘disrupt your everyday’ to ensure the arts remain accessible to all regardless of when people work.

“We are incredibly grateful and look forward to working with the Council further once the project opens in Spring 2023.”

Cllr Geoff Barraclough, Westminster City Council’s Cabinet Member for planning and economic development, who approved the grant, said: “At a time when we are losing small theatres, this will be a welcome return.

“Theatres are an important part of any community, and this project helps the growth of the local arts, entertainment, and cultural sectors.

“But there’s a historical element to this too. This was a ground-breaking and experimental theatre that helped discover new talent and give underrepresented groups a voice.

“The Soho Poly was a small but revolutionary space, and it had a far greater impact on the arts than its size would suggest. It’s good to hear that when the work is complete, the revamped theatre plans to follow in that tradition.”

To find out more about the project and the University of Westminster’s ambitions for the Soho Poly, and how you can support the cause, please email [email protected] or access our plans.