PICTURE HOUSE MEETING
Report of the public meeting of Thursday, 3rd March to discuss the future of Hebden Bridge's much-loved cinema.
March 4, 2011
Riverside School was packed and overflowing yesterday evening as people crowded into the public meeting about the future of our cinema. All seats were taken and the benches around the periphery of the hall soon filled up; others just had to stand.
The meeting was opened and chaired by the Mayor of Hebden Royd, Robin Dixon. Robin emphasised that no decisions about the future of the cinema had yet been made.
Town Clerk of Hebden Royd, Jason Boom mapped out what had happened so far.
At the beginning of last September, Hebden Royd Town Council started looking at what Calderdale services might be under threat. The Picture House was mentioned.
A consortium began to emerge including the Town Council, Hebden Bridge Community Association and the Arts Festival. At its meeting on 17 November, Hebden Royd Town Council created a working party to look at taking over services from Calderdale such as the public toilets and allotments. It was becoming apparent that the Picture House was moving the fastest.
On 3 February, the Town Council met with the hilltop parishes who gave their support to taking the Picture House into local ownership. On 9 February, a formal request was made to Calderdale for the Picture House to be the subject of an asset transfer.
Bill Lawrence is a former Head of Film at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television (now the National Media Museum). He spoke about the time in the late 90s when changes were finally made to the cinema programming so that we have a wide range of films available that we have today.
Bill advised on the development of the Picture House programme in 1997 and booked the programme from 1998 - 2010.
He pointed out that things cannot carry on as they are. By the end of 2012, 35mm films will no longer be available; cinemas will have to be digital. Investment is needed for the new digital cinema equipment. He said that the accounts of the cinema were good and the future is positive. He joked that more tickets were sold in Hebden Bridge for Fanny and Elvis than in the rest of the country put together.
Gwen Goddard spoke on behalf of the Hebden Bridge Community Association the 600 member organisation which has brought about the asset transfer of the Town Hall. She read out the seven key principles upon which any asset transfer must be based.
- The Picture House to remain a public building. Adequate mechanisms to be in place to ensure accountability and democratic control.
- The Picture House to remain available for community events. Steps to be taken to increase its usage, especially during the day.
- The Picture House to maintain its current mix of programming, combining Hollywood blockbusters with more specialist films.
- The Picture House to keep its distinctive ambience - not least the opportunity to take a cup of fair trade coffee in to the stalls!
- The Picture House to seek to maintain employment continuity for staff based there.
- The Picture House to be run on a not-for-profit basis, rather than for ultimate commercial gain.
- The Picture House to be strengthened and developed through longer-term strategic development planning.
It was pointed out that Calderdale encouraged the consortium to make an application for asset transfer. After the elections in May it may be a different story. Who knows, the council may wish to capitalise on such assets and sell it off for luxury canalside apartments. If the submission for asset transfer is agreed by the Calderdale Cabinet this month, then the negotiations will be in the hands of council officers. If the go-ahead is given we should relaunch Friends of the Picture House.
Dave Nelson of the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival listed some of the many memorable performances the Festival has put on at the Picture House over the years; from comedians Linda Smith and Mark Steel to Hank Wangford and Doris and the Dinner Ladies. He described how it is already kitted out for live performances but needs investment in an up-to-date sound system. Dave made some interesting and imaginative suggestions of what could happen if the community owned the building, stressing these were person thoughts, such as late night and more matinee films and a glass extension with a bar overlooking the park and canal.
Lars Hansen said that Blackshaw Head Parish Council were supporting the consortium and read out a message of support from Dorothy Sutcliffe.
Robin Tuddenham, Director of Communities for Calderdale Council, said there was no question of Calderdale wanting to dump a problem. The Picture House does well but there is no way that Calderdale will be able to put in the investment the cinema will need over the coming years. He compared the fact that the Picture House will sell 53-54,000 tickets this year with, for example, the cinema at Bradford's National media Museum which covers the whole of Bradford and expects to sell 70,000 tickets this year.
Dave Boardman told those present that the Trades Club wants to be able to carry on putting on gigs at the Picture House, no matter who owns it. He feared that the Tories would want to close it down, "like they want to close everything else down". Town Cllr Susan Press sought assurances that any board who runs the Picture House would be democratically elected from the community.
Questions from the floor elicited the fact that Calderdale estimated that repairs to the building would be in the region of £412,000. There was some anger that such an important point had not been included at the beginning of the meeting when the project of asset transfer was being introduced. After some discussion, it became clear that this was a ten-year plan and that none of building work was essential immediately - although it was widely agreed that the toilets need attention.
The meeting continued with various points and questions made from the floor. These include
- How much would the new digital projector and associated equipment cost? The estimate was in the region of £50-£60,000.
- Employment continuity for existing staff: a questioner expressed doubt about how that would work in practice.
- A grant has been made to Calderdale for £150,000.
- Many funding opportunities will become available which are not available to the Picture House while it is owned by Calderdale.
- The projected asset transfer would include the two shops.
- Calderdale would retain the freehold of the building, giving a 125 year lease, similar to what it has done for the Town Hall.
Calderdale Cllr Nader Fekri emphasised that nothing was set in stone, and it wasn't "the usual suspects" behind the project; and to laughter added, "nor is it N.Fekri empire builder". Andrew Bibby told how in 1968 the then Hebden Bridge Council had stepped in and bought the Picture House to stop it being turned into a carpet warehouse.
The meeting lasted two hours and there were impressive contributions from both the floor and those representing the consortium. However, possibly inevitably, the meeting became shambolic at times.
Having been promised at the beginning of the meeting that the people present would have their say, attempts to put questions to a vote at the end rather fizzled out. Mayor Robin Dixon did ask if there was anyone who thought the consortium should stop now. Out of all those present, only one person put up his hand.
This HebWeb reporter agrees with Cllr Groves who has written to the HebWeb Forum that "the overwhelming feeling was positive". However, there is clearly also a minority who have yet to be fully convinced and even many of those who support the venture have questions and concerns which will need to be addressed and debated in the coming months.
Submission to Calderdale Council for asset transfer of
Hebden Bridge Picture House
HebWeb Forum - Picture House
Facebook group - Lets Save Hebden Bridge Picture House
Hebweb News - Feb-March 2011
HebWeb News: Save the Picture House - October 2010
See also: HebWeb news of the 1999 threat to the Picture House