By Victoria Gray
The stretch of road that begins as Kingsland High Street and ends at Stoke Newington Road used to be home to three cinemas. Only one, the beloved Rio, remains. Salvation has come for the Savoy, whose main cinema has lain empty since it closed in the 1977, in the form of a new project – Evolutionary Arts Hackney, or EartH. With funding from Big Issue Invest, The Arts Impact Fund and Triodos Bank, the company behind Village Underground are developing the building into an arts centre, complete with a music studio, all-day restaurant and two venues for performances.
We spoke to Village Underground founder, Auro Foxcroft, and Executive Head Chef of the new EartH kitchen, Chris Gillard, about their plans for the venue.
Auro Foxcroft – EartH
Why is Dalston the most exciting place to open a new arts centre now?
Dalston is a great neighbourhood, but for me it’s really Hackney as a whole that I love. Despite all the crazy change and gentrification, it’s still a beautiful place with so many amazing people doing brilliant things.
What will be the “vibe” – is it part of the evolution of Hackney itself or creating a new scene?
We want to build a broad church. We can do so much more programming with these spaces. The music side has started really well; now it’s on to different performance art forms. We want to grow EartH into a place that represents.
Did the licensing laws debate affect plans at all? Did it come during negotiations?
Hackney Council were understandably very thorough with our application, but ultimately were really supportive. Part of that was the overwhelming public backing. We got over 400 letters of support in two days. It was amazing to watch it go viral across the borough and really beautiful to read everyone’s thoughts and hopes for what we were trying to do.
Chris Gillard: EartH Kitchen
How do the social projects look in the kitchen?
We need to be encouraging people with those opportunities. I want to encourage apprentices, so people can see it’s something they’d like to do, and see that there’s a route to get there. I would love to be staffing the kitchen with people who say they’ve grown up round the corner and enjoy the space as somewhere to come and work.
What drew you to this project?
It’s physically close to home, but also emotionally close to home. I feel that I’ve done my time in terms of exploring fine- dining restaurant experiences. But this is going to be a neighbourhood restaurant. I feel like I’m cooking for my mates – in the nicest possible way.
How will it be different to all the other restaurants in Dalston?
We have our own ideals and mission statement, so it would be nice to be a trendsetter in that respect. What’s special is that it’s people who are doing things from the heart: there’s someone who used to be a sound engineer at Village Underground who has done the ‘I’m going to do the good life’ thing and set up a pig farm in South Wales, who will be supplying meat for instance.