Letchworth’s art foundation

The Broadway Cinema lit by neon in 1936

The Broadway Cinema lit by neon in 1936 - Credit: Archant

With a £3.8 milion investment in a theatre stage at its historic cinema and new support for the arts in the town, Letchworth is being moulded into a key centre for the arts in the county. James Scott reports

Jade Johnson

Jade Johnson - Credit: Archant

Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, which invests in the town through grants and services, has long held an ambition to raise the arts profile of the community. In May, the foundation gave the biggest indication that its ambition would bear fruit as chief executive John Lewis reeled off a list of developments to secure Letchworth’s place at the region’s cultural table.

Theatre space

Appropriately, the foundation’s meeting was held in the town’s artistic jewel in the crown, the Broadway Cinema. The restored 1930s Art Deco venue is set to benefit most from investment – the foundation is financing a £3.8m theatre space at the cinema complete with dressing rooms, a larger stage, new seating and air cooling to transform Screen One into a multi-use venue for the arts.

The project was borne out of the demand for live plays and ballet screenings beamed to the cinema from leading theatres, with tickets being snapped up for events such as Helen Mirren in The Audience and an inventive one-man production of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

In his address, chief executive Lewis said, ‘We’ll still be showing blockbuster films but this work will mean we can also bring larger touring theatre companies and live music to the Broadway.

‘Live events at Broadway Cinema have been hugely popular. We are number one for live feeds in the country. We are punching above our weight in terms of the support the cinema receives.

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‘It is an ambitious project, but it has now been signed-off by the governors and we hope to have our first theatre show on October 1 in time for the cinema’s 80th birthday. Audiences behave in different way to stage productions and we want to latch on to that with these plans.’

The poster girl for the arts boost project is Letchworth actress Jade Johnson, who received a grant from the foundation to enable her to attend a National Youth Music Theatre summer school which boasts Matt Smith, Jude Law and Eddie Redmayne among its alumni.

The 18-year-old (pictured below), who starred in CBBC drama World’s End this spring and has been cast in the starring role of Charity in the NYMT’s Sweet Charity production, said ‘It’s hard to find people to fund the arts. The foundation is unique and that’s great. I would have struggled to find the money to go otherwise.’ She added, ‘The new theatre space will keep Letchworth going as a hub for the arts.’

Arts centre

The foundation has stressed that it will not be putting all its eggs in one basket with the cinema however, with Letchworth Arts Centre, of which it recently took control, due for refurbishment this year.

After the success of the Herts at War exhibition at the centre the Arcade, it will now operate as a community museum with St Chistopher School set to create a visual celebration of its history in the boarding school’s centenary year.

Lewis explained, ’The refurbishment of the arts centre space will involve improving the art gallery and the cafe. We want to refresh and uplift the place to allow for a broader range of exhibitions.

‘The community museum will catch people’s eye as they move through the Arcade. Rather than temporary exhibitions which can leave the shop front looking untidy when finished, the museum will provide a permanent housing for historical and artistic pieces in the town.’

Box office

The busier calendar of events in the town is also being planned for with a box office in the Eastcheap building formerly occupied by the Shop Letchworth team.

Steering this project will be the newly-formed Letchworth Forum which will also help arts groups and individuals to develop programmes that complement one another and add further to the cultural scene to be found in the town.

Forum chairman Arthur Jarman, who is the governor for arts and culture at the foundation, said, ‘Letchworth is rich in the arts. As an enabling organisation, the new forum will promote and celebrate the many and diverse cultural activities offered within the garden city.’

One thing is for certain. Te foundation intends to create an artistic reputation the town can be proud of.


July Letchworth arts events 2nd A new take on tradition: Damian Hirst, stretching the boundaries An illustrated lecture by Frank Woodgate for North Herts Decorative and Fine Arts Society, Spirella Ballroom

5th Broadway Cinema live screening: William Tell, Royal Opera House

9th Broadway Cinema live screening: The Comedy of Errors, The Globe

18th Broadway Cinema live screening: Andre Rieu’s in concert from Maastricht

22nd Broadway Cinema live screening: The Merchant of Venice, Royal Shakespeare Company

Throughout July: Herts at War exhibition, The Arcade

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