A church group claims it is being “hounded” by campaigners opposed to turning a former notorious Clapton nightclub into an Ethiopian Orthodox church.
The St Mary of Zion Ethiopian Orthodox Church on Lower Clapton Road is facing a backlash from the Friends of Clapton Cinematograph Theatre group which fears the loss of the former nightclub’s cinematic heritage.
The site is no stranger to controversy. Between 2004 and 2006 the Palace Pavilion nightclub became associated with a number of shootings and stabbings that took place in the area, giving Lower Clapton Road the nickname “Murder Mile”.
Members of the Friends of Clapton Cinematograph Theatre group – who want the building to be restored as a cinema – have accused the church of going back on its promise to return the building to its “former glory”. In a letter sent to local councillor Rick Muir last summer the church said it wanted to “enhance” the building’s original Edwardian features, which include the former cinema’s ticket office, a gilded barrel-vaulted roof and traditional “proscenium” theatre arch.
Paul Wolde Amlak Aiken, assistant secretary to the church’s parish council said: “I can’t understand why we’re being hounded in this way. Our redesign does not remove any of the old features. It’s an annoyance and disrespectful.”
He added: “We didn’t choose this site for a particular reason. We needed a building, it came up on the market and we put in a bid. If they wanted to turn the church back into a cinema then why didn’t they buy it?”
Members of the theatre group say the plans submitted to Hackney Council on 25 January, which include the splitting up of the old cinema auditorium and the addition of a dome, make no reference to the fate of the original features.
Describing the church as “aloof”, the group’s secretary Julia Lafferty said: “When we invited church representatives to talk with us last summer, we had high hopes that they would respect the fact that the building was in a conservation area and a valued heritage asset. But since that time the shutters have come down.”
An online petition set up by Friends of Clapton Cinematograph Theatre has so far collected 718 signatures.
St Mary of Zion, which is currently based in St James’, an Anglican church located next door to the Palace Pavilion site, has been without a building of its own for 38 years. It bought the premises at 229 Lower Clapton Road for £700,000 last May after the building was confiscated from its former owner, nightclub owner Ken Edwards.
Mr Edwards closed the club in 2006 following the murder of 19-year-old Barrington Williams-Samuel outside the venue.
St Mary of Zion is now waiting for approval for its plans from Hackney Council.