Bingo players in Hornchurch have come together to save their beloved art deco Mecca bingo hall. The 81 year old building in Hornchurch’s high street has a loyal and dedicated band of regulars, who knew they had to act when the council suggested demolishing it in response to what they were told was “a very generous offer from property developers” in July this year.
Their plan was to demolish the building, and transform it into a Lidl supermarket. Originally opened in 1935 as a cinema with all the glamorous trappings which came with the heyday of movies, it was converted to a bingo hall in 1973, retaining its striking features on the inside and outside. Hayley Johnson, 37, who lives across the road from the bingo hall, started a Facebook group to rally supporters and stir the locals who weren’t regulars into action. Before she knew it, she had 200 likes. She said that her ideal goal would obviously be to keep the building as a bingo hall, but she was willing to accept that she would only be saving the beautiful building, which may be bought for another purpose. However, she battled on, running her campaign from home, joined by Tony Bailey, 46, and Lucy Saunders, 30, who took a petition door to door, and gathered signatures. Together, they applied for historic building status to protect the art deco building, citing the towers on the structure as a significant feature. To cover all the bases, Hayley applied to the council for a building preservation order, giving it six months of protection from demolition, and the protected status which a listed building would get.
As the campaign gathered speed, Hayley was delighted to find the Cinema Theatre Association wanted to help her save her bingo building, and supported her application.
At the beginning of October, Hayley’s dream came true when Lidl were served with an Article 4 Direction, which means that if they want to tear the building down, they will need to apply for the kind of planning permission reserved for historic buildings. With the Article 4 in place, the building must not be touched by developers for six months, while Historic England perform an assessment, and liaise with the government’s Department for Media, Culture and Sport to see if Listed Building Status can be awarded. This brilliant turn of events means that Hayley and friends may get to play another day at their favourite bingo hall in Hornchurch.