Archive photo showing the Soho Poly Theatre in Riding House Street, Fitzrovia.
The Soho Poly Theatre was in Riding House Street from 1972 to 1990 will now get funding for its restoration. Photo: University of Westminster Archive.

Historic London theatre the Soho Poly could finally be revived after it was awarded a £50,000 grant in a boost to its restoration fund. The “ground-breaking” venue is set to be revamped with its iconic lunchtime shows making a comeback.

The theatre was a leader in radical “lunchtime theatre” and aimed to make the arts more accessible to diverse communities. It helped launch the careers of talents like writer Hanif Kureishi, actor and director Simon Callow, actor Bob Hoskins, and playwright Caryl Churchill.

The small venue was built in 1972 in the basement of the University of Westminster’s campus on Riding House Street, in Fitzrovia. It was abandoned in 1990 and fell into disrepair until it was rediscovered in 2012, when plans were made to hold pop-up shows and a few events were held on it’s 50th anniversary in March.

The revamp will create new spaces for performances, exhibitions and events, including drama, writing and poetry. It will also improve access for disabled visitors, with work set to start in Spring 2023. 

Once the renovations are complete, the Poly will host lunchtime and evening theatre, art exhibitions, poetry festivals and writing courses. A new music club and LGBTQ+ drama club will also be hosted by the venue as well as mentoring schemes and internships for students and locals.

The project has been kick-started by a £50,000 grant from Westminster City Council, funded by a charge applied to developers to help local infrastructure — called a community infrastructure levy (CIL).

The restoration fund has an overall target to raise £400,000.

Neighbourhood CIL can be used to fund a variety of community projects. The council encourages eligible organisations to apply for Neighbourhood CIL to deliver projects that benefit the local community of residents and businesses.

The University of Westminster’s head of development and fundraising Jordan Scammell said: “We are delighted to have been granted £50,000 community infrastructure levy funding from Westminster City Council, via the Fitzwest Neighbourhood Forum, towards the capital restoration of our Soho Poly performing arts space.

“With the funding we’ve received, we are now in the position to restore the space and install disabled access, ensuring a vibrant, inclusive and accessible performance venue that will once again provide under-represented 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,” said Scammell.

Westminster City Council’s cabinet member for planning and economic development Geoff Barraclough 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 under-represented 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,” said Barraclough.

Westminster City Council: Neighbourhood CIL Allocations (Summer 2022).