A New Home for the Tower Theatre?
Plans progress for the acquisition of Sunstone House, Stoke Newington
One of the final milestones on the journey to owning a new home has been passed as Hackney Council has approved the change-of-use application. The building had previously been a gym which falls into a different category from theatre use, so, for the Tower to operate at Sunstone House, the council Planning Department needed to agree to the change and the modifications to the interior space. As is usual, there were a number of conditions attached, but none was unexpected and they do not delay any of the Tower's plans. The Tower's Sunstone Team and Suzie Bridges (their architect and 'agent' for the application) presented a strong case highlighting the benefits of having the Tower in the area, bringing a notable building back into community use and fulfilling the very many technical issues required.
As part of the process, members of the team canvassed interest in the immediate area, including Stoke Newington Church Street. Apart from a remarkably positive response on the street, many residents and businesses took the time to submit letters of support to the planners. The Planning Officer noted that she couldn't remember having so many expressions of support for an application. It was also gratifying to learn that no objections of note were received. So a huge "thank you" to everyone who supported the application.
You will remember that a premises licence was granted some months ago which covers our theatre activities and drinks sales. Along with the successful change-of-use application, we are very excited to say that all the major local authority processes have been completed and we are now moving forward with the final details of the contract with the current owner for the purchase of the building.
The Tower's Sunstone Team
on behalf of the Board of Trustees
Frequently Asked Questions ....
- What and where is Sunstone House?
Sunstone House is an impressive Victorian Gothic building situated in Stoke Newington (N16 7HR) which has been a Methodist Chapel, a Synagogue and, mostly recently, a women-only gym.
What does this property offer the Tower Theatre Company?
Plans for Sunstone House include a flexible theatre with up to 120 seat capacity, three rehearsal rooms, an office, some space for set builds, props and costume stores as well as the all-important bar and social space.
How close are we to completion?
Now that planning permission has been granted the purchase should complete quickly.
How soon can we move in?
We hope to be able to move many of our activities into the building soon after we take ownership once we have the space fit for us to occupy. Relocating the office, props and costume store and rehearsal space will free up our current outgoings to ensure that costs are contained. All being well we will aim to launch our first season of plays there in Autumn 2018.
How much of our "wish-list" does this cover?
Much of it! The building will suit all our major needs. We will be able to revive Friends evenings, social events, play readings, new writing nights and devised work to run alongside our regular programme of productions. Although we may need to keep one or more of our arches for bulky furniture storage and some set pre-builds, we expect to be able to bring most of the company's activities under one roof.
Will we be OK financially after buying Sunstone House?
Since we left the Canonbury Tower in 2003, we've been looking for a permanent home for the company which will enable us to remain financially secure and viable for a long-term future. After more than a year of negotiation Sunstone House has become a realistic choice both from a cost and adaptability perspective. The Board of Trustees has carried out some rigorous costings and forecasting and the Business Plans has been assessed and deemed robust by an independent accountancy firm. We will have to raise some further funds for specific additional works in due course (for example to make the building properly accessible) but we can afford to do what we need in order to move in right now.
When can I see what it looks like, and take a tour?
You can see the outside of the building from Northwold Road. It is just off Stoke Newington High Street. Once the purchase has gone through we will hold a series of open days for members and also for local groups to get to know us.
How will we fit into the local arts and cultural scene?
We expect to be the only theatre in the immediate vicinity of Stoke Newington and certainly the only theatre owned by a non-professional company. The Park Theatre in Finsbury Park and the Arcola Theatre in Dalston are nearby and there are plans to create a new arts hub in the old Savoy cinema on Kingsland Road. We have been starting to make many contacts in the area, including with the Hackney Society and the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. These all have the positive advantage of making the area a vibrant cultural community within which we can play an important part.
How can I help to get us up and running in the new space?
It will be all hands on deck when (fingers crossed) the sale is complete and the building work has taken place. We will need as many helpers as possible to relocate to our new home and we'll need lots of help to christen the bar!
We will update these FAQs as the project progresses.