Soho Estates are in charge of re-developing parts of Soho, including Madame Jojo’s. Chairman of the company is former conservative MP Steve Norris. The director is Fawn James, who is the granddaughter of Soho legend Paul Raymond. I had a chat with them about their plans for the future of Soho.
You say on your website that you are ‘building the future, but respecting the past’. What do you see as the future for Soho, and how are you going to build it?
We believe Soho will change at its own pace, as it always has done and will do. The introduction of popular street food markets, along with an increase in different types of shops, offices and restaurants is changing the reasons why people go into Soho, with more people visiting the area during the day.
As a landlord, we look at our holdings and see what we can do to make improvements. That can mean redevelopment, but it also means getting the right mix of tenants, and working closely with those that have a stake in the community. The community is hugely diverse; it’s everyone from performers to shopkeepers to post-production film and TV companies. The thing that people in Soho tend to have in common is a creative spark, and that’s something that transcends the ages.
The main argument against the gentrification is that Soho is losing it’s character. How are you planning to ‘respect the past’ too?
We have properties that were built in the 1800s that with careful planning can be reborn into modern uses that can safeguard them for years to come – Dean Street Town House and the Sanctum Hotel are just two examples of this. We are currently developing and restoring 76 Dean Street, which was devastated by a fire in 2009. We bought the property after the fire, when it was used as offices, but when it was built it was a fine Georgian townhouse. We are restoring the Grade II* (2 star) building to its former glory with the approval of English Heritage, and it will reopen as a new Soho House club in 2015.
We recognise the rich and creative history of Soho and the importance of venues such as Madame Jojo’s. Indeed, the idea and concept of Jojo’s came from Paul Raymond, who first opened the club in 1987.
Along with Madame Jojo’s, we have been granted a licence to retain The Box club and we will also be opening a new cabaret theatre. The two licensed clubs (Jojo’s and The Box) and a re-imagined Boulevard Theatre in Walker’s Court will provide a platform for emerging performers, while offering those who have become household names the opportunity to return to their creative roots. This mix of creative talent from across the broadest of spectrums is what Soho is and should continue to be about.
You mention too that you’re planning to open a new Madame Jojo’s-type venue in Soho. What can we expect?
The property is undergoing a renovation which will provide an improved club space, suitable for modern use. The premises will undergo work over a period of about 2 years, but will then reopen and the performers will be welcomed back.
It is also mentioned that you will be building offices in Soho. Will these be affordable, especially given that lots of independent businesses can’t afford the rent in Soho?
We are building offices in Walker’s Court which will be our new headquarters.
Later this year we will be submitting plans later to redevelop the old Foyles bookstore on Charing Cross Road, which will include space for post-production and other creative industries. We want to establish a creative hub, using the basement for start-ups and creative companies.
We are already trying this out on a smaller scale in some of our offices elsewhere in Soho, where we offer small creative companies space at attractive rates.
There are, as I’m sure you’re aware, groups trying to ‘save Soho’. Would you say that, by putting the money into the area, that Soho Estates is actually ‘saving Soho’?
Soho has a great number of people looking out for its interests. It’s not one company, or one group who make an area, it’s the community as a whole.
We believe in the Soho you see today and want to safeguard its future. As a family, we have operated in Soho for over fifty years. We intend to retain our property ownership for generations to come, so the unique character of Soho is as important to us as to anybody.