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A jewel waiting to be polished

5 September 2018 Suzanne Frost

Heading out to Crouch End you may be miles out from the city – but it feels just like London, all vape shops, hipster barbers, organic coffee shops and arty picture houses. At the heart of the villagey high street there looms Hornsey Town Hall, run down, abandoned, yet whispering of former glory and so obviously brimming with potential, it is a sleeping jewel just waiting for a polish and it will dazzle. London Calling got an exclusive tour of the old beauty by Andrew Major, head of Space &Community at The TIME & SPACE Co., place making specialists who are taking on the task of bringing the sleeping beauty back to life.

Art Deco is an architectural style not massively represented in London, which makes Hornsey Town Hall even more special. The elegant modernist style somehow looks incredible current again, reminiscent of cool hotels, bars and venues in Berlin, where the Bauhaus style originated and is much more common in the cityscape. Hornsey Town Hall was build by New Zealand architect Reginald Uren in 1935. Uren was just 27 at the time and won an architectural competition to build the multi purpose hall in 1935. It was his first job. The Royal Institute of British Architects recognised the quality of the design and awarded the building a bronze medal for the best London building

(c) Suzanne Frost 
 
The Town Hall fulfilled its intended function for the next thirty years but in the 1960s, the council left the building after a merging of borough administration, abandoning the old beauty to decay. Over the years, there were plenty of bids from investors trying to get there hands on the Grade II* listed building (the star stands for ‘at risk’ meaning lots of safety surveys before refurbishment can start) to developed the usual – luxury flats, an apartHotel, a complete interior gutting. Yet, luckily, the council of Haringey refused all of them, making community access a condition for any future biddings. Now, The TIME &SPACE Co. will re-open Hornsey Town Hall as a fully-fledged arts centre. The £30m investment will create a modern day, future proofed arts centre paving the way for a cultural renaissance in the London Borough of Haringey and beyond. A creative hub that provides world class facilities in exceptional environments for people to work, socialise, relax and enjoy for generations to come.

(c) Suzanne Frost 
 
Entering the building is like walking into a time capsule. While run down, there is so much still preserved and just in need of a bit of love and care. A multitude of original features, marble columns, brushed bronze handrails, warm wooden panels, vintage clocks, curved reception desks and angular window handles, lifts straight out of a period film – even original curtains with geometric patterns in muted greens and reds are still up. It is a vast space, the huge Assembly Hall lying in wait to become one of the potentially largest multi-purpose venues in London. Legend has it that Queen performed Bohemian Rhapsody here in the 70 and the Kinks graced the stage.

(c) Suzanne Frost 

On the first floor there is a perfectly preserved council chamber, ideal for lectures, panel discussions and other events. The roof lends itself for a roof top bar and open-air cinema can be projected onto the tower, while in the basement columns tiled in electric blue are screaming nightclub. There is so much space available, that a recording studio and a small cinema are also possible, along with lots of co-working space, a café, a gallery. A small boutique hotel and affordable flats will bring in investment to be used on the art centre and the remodelling of the square and the original fountain. As a  concept, they take inspiration from places like Soho House, but without the exclusivity. Terraced memberships will exist for the co-working spaces, but most of HTH will be public and openly accessible.

The council chamber (c) Dan Bridge photographer
 
While the Assembly Hall is ideal music, it can also be transformed into a 1000 seat theatre, which will be available for touring productions, and HTH is big enough to offer rehearsal space – always desperately sought after in London and probably one of the biggest draws for the creative industries. Is there any fear about establishing another theatre in London’s oversaturated arts landscape? “We think there is an appetite here in Haringey for arts and culture”, says Andrew. “We realise we are a bit off the beaten track, not that easy to reach, but we want to transform HTH into a destination that people want to go!” It certainly has the potential, a building you can easily fall in love with.
 
CGI image of remodelled square (c) Steve Edge

The key to making HTH a new venue to love lies in the community, though. That is why the community of Haringey is strongly encouraged to get involved and have their interests taken into account. A survey is in place where people can have their say and in mid-September, there will be 3 workshop seminars to help get the programming exactly right for the demographic. Crouch End is a close-knit community, fearful of change or the wrong kind of investors. Hornsey Town Hall Art Centre is a concept for the community, not to exclude them. A first and very successful venture is the weekly street food market by KERB, which launched last week. With much of the building already in usable condition, there will be Halloween and Christmas events and free yoga classes starting soon, so hopefully by the time of completion in 2021, the Art centre should be already well established in the community. Some have dubbed it the North London answer to the Barbican. Nice try but Hornsey Town Hall is much prettier!
 
Hornsey Town Hall Art Centre is at The Broadway, London N8 9JJ
 

 
 
 
 
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