DIY Cinemas: Deptford residents plan to build their own local community cinema

Despite London having a large number of diverse cinemas, particularly clustered around the central zone, some areas remain surprisingly barren. At the time of writing, it seems that two entire London boroughs: Lewisham and Waltham Forest, have no cinema at all .

Admittedly I didn't have a huge amount of time to research this to 100% prove this statistic, but the claim itself jumped out at me from the home page of London blog Lewisham's Lost Cinemas, a fascinating site currently engaged in a project to catalog the history of Lewisham's long-gone cinemas. According to the blog, back in the 1930s, there were over twenty venues showing films in the borough, spread across Catford, Downham, Sydenham, Hither Green, Forest Hill, Brockley, Deptford and New Cross.

 Lewisham's Lost Cinemas blog: Gaumont Palace, 1-5 Loampit Vale. Opened in 1932, later renamed Odeon, closed in 1981 and demolished in 1991. The largest cinema in Lewisham, it initially had 3050 seats.

Lewisham's Lost Cinemas blog: Gaumont Palace, 1-5 Loampit Vale. Opened in 1932, later renamed Odeon, closed in 1981 and demolished in 1991. The largest cinema in Lewisham, it initially had 3050 seats.

Even in the age of VOD and piracy, cinemas still are seen by councils as important social hubs to draw in local and neighbouring residents, and their spending money. A recent Evening Standard news story on the gentrification of Waltham Forest notes that the borough is getting a facelift with a brand new development location named 'The Scene' due to open in November, with a nine-screen cinema, a Pizza Express and a Nando's.  "Finally, there'll be a cinema back in the borough! People will actually spend their evenings here, instead of heading into Central London," a council spokesperson raves in the article.

Likewise, Dulwich residents (the area comes under Southwark Borough) will soon have a Picturehouse cinema opening on East Dulwich's Lordship Lane, thus reducing the need to commute to the next borough of Lambeth for the Brixton Ritzy Picturehouse.

But in some of the other cinema deserts in London, local communities aren't waiting for the kind of big, Nandos-oriented, council-backed developments as in Waltham Forest. A small group of artists, residents and film enthusiasts in Deptford recently announced, following a slew of public meetings, their ambition to fill the Lewisham-sized hole in cinema coverage in their area by setting up a Deptford Cinema: a new, not-for-profit, volunteer run cinema focusing on art and experimental film. The plan is for a 50 seat cinema, plus cafe/lounge and a film darkroom, to open in Autumn 2014 in the space of an old shop on 39 Deptford Broadway.

 Deptford Cinema is being built in an empty shop at 39 Deptford Broadway, and will be the only cinema in Lewisham if completed on schedule

Deptford Cinema is being built in an empty shop at 39 Deptford Broadway, and will be the only cinema in Lewisham if completed on schedule

The Deptford Cinema Press Release is below in full:

The London Borough of Lewisham is one of only two London boroughs with no dedicated cinema. This problem is being put right by a committed group of volunteers, drawn from the local community.

Living in Lewisham and want to spend an evening at the pictures? Until now, the only option was to leave the borough, travelling to Greenwich, Southwark or even into central London. Local residents have complained for years. Not only does the lack of local provision make it harder to see good films – with ticket prices in central London cinemas being so high, it also meant cinema attendance was out of the price range of many local residents.

All of that is about to change. A group comprising local residents, film makers, and dedicated cinema enthusiasts drawn from across South London have come together to make Deptford Cinema a reality. Having secured a building, they're now setting about turning the two-floor formerly derelict space into an arthouse cinema that will show films several nights a week.

“We wanted to create something that would have real value for the local community,” explained Edwin Mingard, one of the group. “We'll concentrate on art and arthouse film – think of the more interesting films you might see at a larger cinema – as those films are fantastic and often harder for people to see. But we'll show something for everyone, from Hollywood, to the most high-quality experimental film seen anywhere in the city. It's one thing to watch a DVD at home, but cinema is a collective experience and can be life-changing. It's an injustice that people in the place we live are denied that.”

“We're all volunteers and we want to keep ticket prices low enough that anyone can see high-quality art on the big screen,” said Gemma Boyle, a full-time teacher and a member of the group. “We'll have talks with film makers, an education programme, and a space that can be hired by local groups.”

“We've set up a CIC (a not-for-profit organisation) to run the building and the cinema,” said Franck Magennis, a trainee lawyer and another member of the group. “Being not-for-profit allows us to do all kinds of great things. Whilst we have to be sustainable, every penny in ticket sales goes back into providing a great cinema experience for the people of Lewisham. It means we can do things like have public meetings where people can learn how to programme films themselves, or suggest films they'd like to see.”

“Whilst we're a cinema, we want to be able to host other art forms too,” said Janine Prevost, another member of the group. “We want to have musicians play live scores to films, to have theatre performances on the stage, and to be a hub where people involved in different art forms know they can meet up or put on events.”

The cinema will have approximately 50 seats, and a large screen that is able to show the latest, high-quality digital projection, as well as 16mm film. The group have plans for a small darkroom in the back where film makers and photographers can make work for a low daily hire fee. There'll also be a cafe-bar - “We don't just want to show a film and then everyone goes home,” said Laurie Szmek, a member of the group. “We want a space where people can talk about film, meet others – a social space where everyone is welcome. You don't get enough places like that anywhere in London, not just Lewisham.”

The group plan to have the cinema up and running by late autumn. To do that they're counting on enough local people getting involved, to help make it happen. “We need everyone,” explained Tyler Dunn, a musician and local resident. “Whatever you can contribute – from skills like plumbing and plastering, to DIY, to ideas about what kind of films we should show. But the most important thing is just enthusiasm. If you have time on your hands and you want to learn a new skill, come to a meeting, see how you can get involved. And then who knows? When things are up and running in a few months time and someone says 'Hey, I heard there's a great new cinema in Deptford' you'll be able to say 'Yeah, I helped build that'.”

Notes for editors:

Deptford Cinema's address and contact details:

Deptford Cinema, 39 Deptford Broadway, SE8 4PQ

Twitter: @deptfordcinema

Facebook: deptfordcinema

Deptford Cinema was set up by a small group of volunteers. The group has grown rapidly in size, and is drawn from local residents of different backgrounds and experience.

It is a registered Community Interest Company (Deptford Free Cinema CIC).

Cimema public meetings take place every Sunday at 1pm. Everyone is welcome.

The site of Deptford Cinema used to be a car body shop but has been derelict for about fifteen years.

The London Borough of Lewisham is one of only two London boroughs with no dedicated cinema space. The other borough is Waltham Forest. 




Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.